Everybody wants things to get better, but most fear change.
This is not true for the people at the ICC Group.
Change can be hard, so, it would not have been a surprise to anyone if the ICC Manufacturing crew was resistant when the company decided to implement a new MRP (material requirements planning) system from SAP—especially since other inventory systems that had been introduced in the past had failed or never quite gotten off the ground.
But that’s not what happened this time.
“This was a nearly perfect team, which is something that I hadn't been a part of before,” says Chris Alexander, ICC procurement manager, who has worked on 15 system implementations as a systems designer in the past. “Every person on this team wanted to help the company, so it really made my role in it much easier than some of the other system implementations I've experienced.”
The team of 13 people was chosen from a range of disciplines to help with the MRP system implementation:
· Chris Alexander, ICC Director of Procurement
· Yarrow Child, Accounting Manager ICC NW
· John-Michael Davis, SAP consultant
· Tom Fields, Pre-Fabrication Supervisor
· James Knudsen, Improvement Engineer
· Jacob Kurz, Master Scheduler ICC NW
· Amber Luttrell, Engineering Administrator
· Paul Natvig, Materials Manager ICC NW
· Michael Santangelo, Finance and Accounting Manager
· Nicole Souter, Drafter
· Roxanne Sprague, Material Buyer
· Terrie Trexler, Accounts Payable Administrator
· Ron DeFabio, Warehouse Manager
The selection of different work roles, talents, and skills was quite deliberate, bringing knowledge and experience with different parts of the process together to help the team to reveal shortcomings in the integration plan and focus on areas that would provide the most benefit.
“It’s really amazing how much effort they put into this project, considering everything that they’ve been through,” says Mike Santangelo, finance and accounting manager, who served as chair of the implementation team. “I can't emphasize enough that without everyone's willingness to do this, it wouldn't be possible. You don't often go into a new company and meet people who are so accepting of making changes to their-day to-day processes.”
Maybe that’s because they’re simply consummate professionals; maybe it’s because many were intrigued to have been included in a process they haven’t participated in before; maybe it’s because of the way the team leaders structured a difficult and complicated process.
That process started with a “current-state mapping” exercise led by Chris Alexander and Mike Santangelo, walking the team through every step from the sales quote to the fully finished tank.
“We had to understand every person’s role, where we needed general processes and where we had gaps so we could design alternate pathways,” says Santangelo. “A lot of what we were doing was simultaneously mapping out where we were at while making tweaks along the way to get to a state where the system can function in a more ideal form. The reality of lot of manufacturing environments is that the exceptions often outnumber the rules.”
The result of the current-state mapping is a diagram that shows the entire process, including everyone’s roles at each step of the way, allowing the team to visualize how it all works together as a whole.
“Before working on this, we understood and respected everyone’s worth as individuals, but not necessarily how each fit into the larger picture,” says James Knudsen. “There’s a proverb that says something along the lines of: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. The current-state mapping is a great way to put that concept into a visual that really drives it home.”
In order for MRP to work, the team had to be able to get an accurate picture of ICC-NW’s inventory. This involved the tedious work of gathering information on the different types of inventory required to complete typical as well as unique orders, from raw stock to engineering to warehouse to procurement.
“What that did is sort of opened up a whole can of worms of all these little issues that we hadn't thought about, but the computer system thinks about, because it doesn't know when to make exceptions for things,” says Knudsen. “We had to define all of that so we can get to an increasingly automated world.”
One big problem for the team was that many of ICC-NW’s practices and inventory had not been computerized, so the data that the team needed wasn’t always readily available.
“The thing that was really unique about this system integration wasn’t the lack of data. It was the fact that no one on this team used that as a crutch or an excuse,” says Alexander. “They really didn’t let that stop them. Using their particular fields of expertise, they helped us fill in where we had data gaps and they helped us develop a systematic methodology for putting it into place without really interrupting business.”
Oh, and about that—business—every member of this team took on the MRP system integration as an extra project, above and beyond their normal work duties.
“They were willing to do whatever it took to get to a solution,” says Alexander. “And, because of their strong sense of ownership and their dedication, we finished about six weeks ahead of schedule.”
That’s a fantastic outcome to Tom Fields, who has been inventory point person for the past 20 years. “We’ve tried different systems over the years and none could ever get off the ground because we didn’t have an administrator who would take the lead, let alone the money to do it,” says Fields, who provided raw stock data and set minimums and maximums for the system. “I’m ecstatic to finally see this come to fruition after all these years. It’s going to make everyone’s jobs so much easier.”
Studies have shown that an MRP system can reduce the amount of time reviewing bills of material and turning them into purchase orders by as much as 70 percent. MRP gives a real-time window into inventory and stock, helps organize scheduled projects and work orders, allows for more accurate planning and purchasing, and provides a transparent and easily accessible record for regulatory compliance.
The statistics are one thing. Having been through other implementations that didn’t pan out, it would have been natural for ICC-NW’s crew to be skeptical. “The people we have here have some of the best attitudes I’ve ever worked with,” says Knudsen, who has a background in process and industrial engineering. “It’s a great environment for collaboration and camaraderie. I think the reason why projects like this are successful is because the people here really care.”
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