Small Changes Lead to Big Benefits

Continuous Improvement (CI) is an ongoing effort that constantly seeks to increase a firm’s effectiveness and efficiency by improving products, services, and/or processes, also known as Lean Manufacturing. It is a conscious evolution of an organization. The Western Regional Enterprise Network (Western REN) has completed a pilot project of CI with seven of the region’s firms, leading to significant results including increased productivity and sales, improved safety, reduced waste, and expanded product lines.

Western REN CEO, Angélique LeBlanc explains that, through their BusinessNow program, workforce quality and availability was identified as a chronic challenge for the region’s employers. “This is a very complex problem, so we approach it from several angles. We support employers in accessing all available talent – both locally and through immigration. We help uncover the region’s hidden job market through our Connector program. Finally, we explore the question about whether employers can be more productive with their existing workforce. This last question led us to the Continuous Improvement pilot program.”

With funding from ACOA, Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the private sector participants, the NS Seafood Alliance, and in partnership with NSBI, the Western REN contracted Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) for their extensive CI experience in Atlantic Canada. This one-year pilot led to tangible – and growing – benefits to the participating regional businesses, the majority of which are seafood processors.

Leo Muise, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance says, “Several of our members participated in this pilot and found it of good value. Member participants found the experience to be informative, leading to everyday improvements in their business procedures, helping them overcome some operational challenges. In all, it was a positive experience.”

The pilot included training, assessments, action plans, and peer learning among the cluster of manufacturers participating. Many suggestions for improvements come directly from staff, empowering and motivating individuals to work as a team. A few individual firm results from the 12-month Western REN’s CI pilot include:

  • Reduced transportation waste by 23%, and planning to use the savings towards growth.
  • Reduced cleaning costs by 48 man-hours per day, redirected labour time into two new premium product lines.
  • Increased profits by 26% by using efficiencies to increase capacity and add value to product lines.
  • Increased productivity by 9%, or $600,000 in sales during the pilot.

Tour at Tri-Star

“Participation in this pilot catalyzed positive change in the culture of our company,” says Darryl Cleveland, CFO of Tri-Star Industries Ltd. “By re-examining the way we have done things in the past, we have redefined our vision and strategic objectives for the future.”

The success of the Western REN’s Continuous Improvement pilot was one of the key considerations for ACOA and LAE in supporting the roll-out of CME’s Manufacturing Productivity program to all Nova Scotia. The program consists of a 3-phased approach, allowing 32 eligible NS manufacturers to achieve business results through implementing continuous improvement. With the program being 50% filled, interested companies should contact the Western REN for further information and next steps.

“We know that continuous improvement to increase efficiency and performance is critical for Nova Scotia companies to remain competitive in the global marketplace,” says Colin Fraser, Member of Parliament for West Nova. “The Government of Canada is proud to help the Western Regional Enterprise Network provide hands-on process improvement coaching and mentoring to local small-and medium-sized enterprises. Ideas for productivity improvement come from employees actually doing the work, resulting in the elimination of unnecessary activities and improving operational outcomes. The result is greater profitability, and better employee engagement and job satisfaction. As these companies become more productive and innovative, they grow, and in turn help to grow the middle class.”

“The province is pleased to help fund this pilot which helped Western businesses become more efficient and productive, and reduce their overall costs,” said Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis. “It also helped demonstrate that continuous improvement practices can contribute to simpler processes, faster turnaround and greater employee and client satisfaction for any organization, regardless of location.”

The Western REN informs, connects, and accelerates regional economic development in the Municipalities of Argyle, Barrington, Clare, Digby, and Yarmouth, and in the Towns of Digby and Yarmouth.

Continuous Improvement Pilot Participants in Western NS:

  • Riverside Lobster
  • AF Theriault and Son
  • Tri-Star Industries
  • Gidney Fisheries
  • Eel Lake Oysters
  • Evan’s Fresh Seafood
  • IMO Fisheries

Of the seven alumni, four of them will continue with the expanded program, and the others may participate in an abbreviated form. Other Western regional firms are also expressing interest.