Manufacturing Continuous Improvement

What can public services learn from manufacturing? Dyfrig Williams visited Schaeffler UK with the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community to look at how they’re constantly looking to improve their work.


As a West Walian, I don’t need an excuse to head back home. After all, as Ray Gravell famously said, “West is Best”. But since my visit to Ricoh’s Factory in Telford with Ideas UK, I’ve been intrigued by what public services can learn about improving our work from manufacturing companies. A visit to Schaeffler in Llanelli was the perfect opportunity to learn more – a quick glance on their website shows that improvement is a core part of their work, which is “characterised by a willingness to continuously improve our products and processes.”


Ricoh's Kaizen Forest / Coedwig Kaizen Ricoh
Ricoh’s Kaizen Forest

According to Wikipedia, Kaizen means ‘change for the better’ and it ‘refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees’. Having wandered round a Kaizen Forest in Ricoh, Schaeffler had a lot to live up to.

But a quick chat about how they run their meetings was enough to show me how embedded continuous improvement is in what they do. They hold 15 minute workshops on the shop floor, which makes it much easier to show the relevance of their discussions to the day to day work of staff. It also means that they can demonstrate what they mean, which is accentuated by the visual displays of data so that people can see where they stand and the effect of their work.

Staff ideas are key to the organisation’s improvement. We heard on the visit that we should “never stop people’s suggestions even if it sounds stupid. The next thing they were going to say could’ve been the answer.” When the ideas come from the staff themselves, they’re also much more likely to buy in to the improvement that’s being proposed.

Hitting the target?

The quote of the day may have been “The key word in Key Performance Indicators is ‘key’.” We heard about how rubbish targets quite understandably annoy the workforce, so it’s important to resist the urge to create more targets and to make the ones we have more meaningful. But this does mean that we have to be willing to challenge targets to make sure they’re smart.

We were also told not to jump to conclusions if we’re not hitting those targets. If the Police are late, does that necessarily mean that they need faster cars? There could be a whole range of factors. We discussed a range of ideas and tools, like using Pareto Analysis to look at the big issues and to drill down. We also talked about Ishikawa Diagrams, the 5 Whys and Toyota’s “Practical Problem Solving.”

What did I learn?

It’s fair to say that I learnt a lot from my visit to Schaeffler. Their focus on good practice and continuous improvement is relentless. It’s fascinating to see an organisation that doesn’t just focus on the bad and what’s gone wrong, but that also looks at why the good is so good, so that they can find more ways of improving what they do.

Whilst the environment and circumstances might be different in public services, there’s undoubtedly loads we can learn from Schaeffler’s focus on improvement. From the transparent use of data on the shop floor to embracing staff ideas, it’s inspiring to look at how Schaeffler make the most of the expertise in their organisation to drive forward their continuous improvement.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Dyf – excellent. I love the 5 Whys but I had not seen the Toyota 8 step Model for problem solving.

    • No probs Gareth, it was a really interesting day. That was new to me too, and great to hear how they found the methods that worked in particular circumstances and applied them to meet their needs. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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