Cook Ireland’s Continuous Improvement journey reaches a new level

Attendees at Shannon Chamber’s Mid-West Lean Network’s fifth virtual workshop for 2021 heard how Cook Ireland’s Continuous Improvements (CI) journey has gained momentum since the company first considered introducing CI in 2016.

The webinar was sponsored by Crystal Lean Solutions, whose managing director Maria Ryan described Cook Ireland’s approach to the entire CI journey as unique, manifested in the company’s patience throughout the journey and its persistence in making it happen even during the pandemic.

Presenters at the webinar included Cook Ireland’s vice president and general manager, Pat Burke, continuous improvement manager, Clare Cooke, director of operations, David Keane and director of quality assurance, Teresa Prendergast. Each presenter outlined their respective roles in the process and clearly stated that the journey over the past five years would not have been possible without the input and support of employees.

Having made the decision to introduce lean/continuous improvement, company representatives opted ’go see’ what was happening in this space through attending Mid-West Lean Network workshops. Consultants were soon engaged to introduce and commence the process. Starting out with visualisation boards in manufacturing and introducing workplace organisation in research and development, problem solving training soon followed, with a focus on strategic deployment in place by 2019.

Whilst being the first site in the company, the world’s largest privately owned medical device company, to deploy CI, the process is now fully embraced at corporate level with corporate leadership defining the objectives and a tool called X Matrix managing the process at a strategic level.

“Everything has to connect to the company’s vision and mission,” explained Pat Burke.

“Communications is the key in all of our undertakings. It is important to get everyone involved, have the process sponsored by the senior management team and give people the opportunity to challenge. Leadership provides the direction and the team identifies how to complete a project.  We don’t wait for perfection; it’s an evolving process so we factor in adjustments.”

Continuous Improvement is now part of the operations’ remit in Cook Ireland. Policy deployment is shared via supervisors at town hall meetings, workshops, and regular communications, both written and verbal. The process has developed and matured at Cook Ireland with a three-year CI strategy (2021-2024) and a CI roadmap now in place, which have become part of ‘business as usual’.

As Pat Burke stated: “Management has changed, adapted and evolved since we introduced CI to manage strategic projects. It has enabled us to successfully undertake cross-functional projects. Our learnings from the entire journey to date is that communication is key and is hard work; cross-functional involvement is essential; focus groups are beneficial; and CI must be made visible and accessible and regularly reviewed. The process involves trial and error, and discipline.”

Thanking the Cook Ireland team for sharing their insights, and describing the company’s CI journey as phenomenal, Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes encouraged companies embracing lean to start small and work towards introducing new elements at a pace that suits their respective long-term strategies.

The Mid-West Lean Network, the second largest regional lean network in Ireland, aims to strengthen and increase the existing culture of lean within companies in Shannon and the wider Mid-West region. Its aim is to enable companies to broaden and strengthen their competitiveness through knowledge sharing and bench-marking against each other and different industries. The Network is chaired by Neil Enright, senior lean specialist with Abbott Rapid Dx International.