The Manunfacturer catches up with Renault Nissan Consulting Managing Director, David Howells to see how two famous brands combined to offer expert advice on operational excellence.
TM: Let’s start at the beginning. How did Renault-Nissan Consulting come about?
David Howells (DH): 25 years ago, Renault was in dire straits and as a result, internal people were charged with finding ways we could do things better. They discovered some things worked better in our organisation than others and that some improvement methods work better than others.
One other thing they discovered was when there was an external consultancy involved, things just seemed to go a bit faster and a bit better. So based on that they decided they would create their own consultancy, the Renault Institute which we sat on the outside of the organisation reporting into the top board. It was very successful. We searched worldwide for best practice and made that applicable to the Renault organisation which brought about significant change.
We decided very early on to open the doors to the external market because we wanted to share the experience, it would be good for the brand and the prices we charged the external market could help subsidise the internal day rate.
When the alliance came along with Nissan in 1999 we changed to Renault-Nissan Consulting.
TM: What are the primary business areas you focus on?
DH: We structure ourselves in four service streams. We have a consulting stream, a training stream, managed services and assessment services. Primarily for our external focus, the non-Renault or Nissan work, we look to consulting and training.
We consider those two things quite separately. Within consulting, we really focus on operational excellence support right across the board from top team coaching right down to hands-on implementation of lean. Really what we’re finding more recently in terms of the primary areas of our business is the practical application of lean within organisations.
We don’t position ourselves and we don’t seek contracts where we would go at a very strategic level. But once a company has defined a strategy, more and more of the areas that we provide are in the successful deployment of that down through the organisation.
It’s about the practical application of lean to drive continuous improvement through an organisation, not the theoretical, highfalutin stuff.
TM: How have you seen the mind-set of manufacturers change towards operational excellence over the past decade?
DH: It’s quite interesting when we talk about the manufacturing sector. If you think about it, there are quite often service activities within manufacturing organisations and within service organisations there could be deemed to be some manufacturing. We tend not to get too hung up on whether it’s a manufacturing or a service customer, we just work with clients to try and help them accelerate what they want to achieve through operational excellence.
The second thing is that if I was to focus on manufacturing organisations, we find they still struggle a bit in terms of understanding the voice of the customer through their organisation. The manufacturing organisations we meet are somewhat mature in some aspects of lean within their domain, but not outside of that.
We have two manifestations of that.
- Getting the voice of the customer articulated throughout the organisation.
If you think about the value streams, the front end and the downstream piece are as important as the manufacturing piece. Getting those aligned to the customer is very important.
- We need to do more work in support functions to get them focused on strategic intent first of all and also their role in supporting manufacturing functions.
They are the two things we’ve seen over the past couple of years.
We’re talking about the practical application of policy deployment. At a strategic level, it can be really complex for people to see the wood for the trees. The deployment of policy deployment at a practical level is something that we pride ourselves on.
If we played back the 10 years, it would be typical for a programme of ours to be largely focused on training. Within manufacturing a large organisation might embark on a six sigma programme, for example, and we would be commissioned to provide that training and it would start and finish when we deliver that.
Now more and more in manufacturing, it’s a much more blended approach to try and drive that culture. Organisations are realising there is only so far you can take it by relying on some sort of serendipity having trained a number of green belts or blacks belts, but actually you need to enable them to not only understand what they’re trying to drive towards, but get them to make the examples they’ve learnt fit into their work environment.
I think a number of organisations found that, so more and more our shift is towards subsequent coaching of individuals and of teams in a sort of project management office environment to achieve the benefits of training programmes and six sigma. That’s been a noticeable shift in the past five years or so.
TM: What do you see companies getting wrong in their journey for operational excellence most of the time? Are you seeing any trends emerge?
DH: There’s two trends, firstly their inability to identify and communicate their strategic intent. The second thing is they totally underestimate first line supervision. It’s the thing that translates the policy deployment from above to the application of that to where the actual work gets done. The articulation of strategic intent and the quality of first line supervision. If you get those two things right you have half a chance.
TM: What is the average amount of time you spend with one business?
DH: In truth, two years is long for us, we normally work in months. Our whole ethos is about transferring knowledge. If it’s two years and we haven’t transferred the knowledge then we don’t consider that a particularly successful project.
TM: With the plethora of lean consultants available, how do you set yourselves apart?
DH: Recently a client said “you’re big enough to cope but small enough to care.” We don’t position ourselves with some of the bigger consulting companies, but with circa 150 consultants across Europe we’re not just a man working out of his bedroom.
First of all our strap line is “sharing the experience,” and what we mean by that is in most of the value stream we’ve had experience working for both Renault and Nissan and so we can be confident working in design to after sales and all points in between. The second thing is that we are an in house consulting group. The criteria for who we can work with is, can we do a great job and can we transfer the knowledge.
We have some advantages in terms of our relationship with Renault and Nissan and what that means in practical terms is we have a number of lean schools across the world. Primarily there are large lean schools in France and in Spain and we’re currently in the process of creating a service school in the UK. We can implant those right in the factories and we can make those available to the external clients and that seems to be very well received in terms of the practical learning of lean.