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Russell Fedun


How Cogeco Increased Its Profitability by Implementing a Lean Solution

A case of less is more

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 11:02

Cogeco’s technical distribution center in Burlington, Ontario, is one of Canada’s drop-off points for internet modem and cable device repair. In 2011, the company’s management carried out a kaizen blitz to improve the efficiency of its device repair process. The process was indeed challenging but did have the desired outcome. Read on to find out how Cogeco integrated a lean solution into its operations, and how it dealt with resistance to change.

Kaizen blitz: before and after

A consulting firm hired by Cogeco was tasked with analyzing just how efficient the Ontario warehouse was with regards to best practices. Once all was said and done, and the results were in, they were dismal. The production line was in no way efficient. “At that time nobody knew on the floor if we were productive or not because we had no way to measure, and we can’t improve something that we don’t measure,” explains Bill Jeffries, Cogeco’s warehouse manager.

The consulting firm was asked to teach the staff about lean manufacturing and to carry out a kaizen blitz. So, during the course of an intense week, management and some of the field staff analyzed current production methods. Then the entire team of 30 workers, along with the consultants, began implementing new practices for device repair.

Dealing with staff resistance

The process was very intense—so much so that some of the staff took things personally. “We had people coming to tears, and apparently, it’s not uncommon,” says warehouse supervisor Gary Towers. “We had long-term staff who had been doing things the same way for so many years, and then you have someone coming in and telling them that what they are doing is all wrong.”

People were defensive and felt attacked. They only wanted to prove that their way was the right way and that the new process would not work. The Cogeco team eventually got over this hump, but it took a good year to see a real culture change.

What would you do differently?

After what they went through with the team, Jeffries and Towers emphasize that you need to know that there is going to be a huge culture shock and more resistance than what you initially expect. Until workers see the benefits and they validate the new process, there will be much resistance.

“We, the management team, weren’t even convinced ourselves” confesses Towers. Now both agree that the management team must all be on the same page, and they need to completely understand where they are going with the lean changes to sell it to their team. Towers adds that “leaders have to 100-percent embrace and believe in lean; until you turn this corner, there is not going to be any change.”

Manage expectations realistically

Lean consultants can tell you that you will make it in six to eight weeks, but according to Jeffries, that’s impossible. “It’s possible to implement the new process, but impossible to sustain it because the lean culture is not in place in six to eight weeks,” he says.

“The longer you have your staff, the harder it is to change because they have bought into their method of work for so many years. It’s not an overnight success—it’s an evolution It will be hard, but you have to say it to your team and be honest about it,” adds Towers.

Reducing movement and transportation waste

Cogeco saw its productivity level increase substantially following that first year of implementing lean manufacturing practices. However, it was unable to establish comparative measurements to previous years because the company had no reporting at the time.

With the new processes, employees focus mainly on reducing movement and transportation waste throughout the production floor and the warehouse. The team cut movements to a minimum by revamping the production floor’s layout and using custom-made modular gravity carts to meet their specific needs. Gone are the days when devices traveled a distance equivalent to three football fields in a 10,000 sq ft factory.

Given that Cogeco workers were busy with the lean implementation and because the modular system was new to them, it was Flexpipe’s assembly team that built each structure during the first year. After that, workers began building carts on their own by copying, and improving upon, the initial designs. Brad, the maintenance leader, coordinates all projects relating to modifying the structures in the moonshine shop located in the warehouse’s entrance.

Reconfiguring workstations to increase productivity

Cogeco used to hire 21 workers to carry out various production tasks. Now, the company needs only four employees. One way it achieved this was by reconfiguring the test stations into U-shaped stations. That way, one worker can do the job of two because racks are within proximity, and the processes have been changed slightly.

“My job as a supervisor is easier now,” says Gary.

Patience to overcome resistance

To conclude, one can say that resistance to change is pretty much inevitable when it comes to changing conventional processes and rearranging workstations. People need a lot of patience and must be 100-percent committed to it. A kaizen blitz was no easy feat, but Cogeco can now say that it was definitely worth it.


About The Author

Russell Fedun’s picture

Russell Fedun

Russell Fedun is a senior sales engineer and project manager at Flexpipe. With more than 30 years in technical sales, Fedun has a lot of experience with lean manufacturing. He is currently taking care of Flexpipe’s clients in the Toronto region.