It’s hard for Master Black Belt Brian Mapani to contain himself when he introduces his company and how he found the ingredients for successful continuous improvement. It’s understandable too. They saved $35 million by making a $1 million investment into their Lean Six Sigma program.

“I'm really proud to be part of this company,” he says. “PremierFMCG is a major player in the fast-moving consumer goods space... For a company that's been around for a long time and with locations all around Southern Africa, continuous improvement means you've got to keep getting better to be a player in the market. If you don't keep doing that, you get overtaken by time, by technology, by competitors.”

PremierFMCG has run 600+ projects in five years and manages them centrally using Companion by Minitab, the project tracking and execution platform that works with Minitab Statistical Software.

“The understanding of continuous improvement has grown so much, and we've started from a company that just had a vision of Lean Six Sigma and continuous improvement to one that has really executed on the vision, and we've delivered way ahead of our five-year plan and strategy,” Brian said.

Before we investigate Brian’s winning approach at PremierFMCG, it is worth noting these achievements were made in a challenging market. South Africa was in a technical recession in the first quarter of 2019. Every major sector had dropped.

“In an economy that is struggling, cost containment, efficiency building and process improvement become critical,” explains Brian.

This is one reason why Brian is sharing this story: he believes that every business can benefit from embracing process improvement. Let's take a look at the seven main ingredients that played a factor in his success.

Ingredient #1 – Leadership Engagement

It is essential in any deployment that you have a clear engagement, buy-in and mandate from the leadership of the business. Support from senior leadership (which we know can be hard to come by) helped PremierFMCG a great deal in overcoming challenges.

The team did not start the actual implementation in the first year. They sought to get everyone on board and understand what the business was trying to achieve. “The mandate at the time was really to deploy Lean Six Sigma and use it as a business transformation platform to improve processes, take out waste and grow the business as much as possible.


Ingredient #2 – Deployment Plan

“Coming out of leadership engagement should be a deployment plan,” Brian said. “There must be a clear game plan on what should be achieved, how progress will get measured, how results will be reported and the timeline.”

At PremierFMCG business units are expected to deliver certain continuous improvement projects – both in terms of value and number.


Ingredient #3 - Infrastructure & Training

Brian said it was a challenge in the beginning for many people learning to use Lean Six Sigma techniques. Overcoming the difficulties required patience, training, coaching, driving the agenda and building it into the strategy of the business.

“When we started we basically didn't have trained personnel,” he added. “We didn't know how to deploy Lean Six Sigma and there was a lot of work that was put into engaging with the leadership of the business as well as selling the strategy to shareholders and stakeholders, divisions and business units. Over the years we've trained close to 20 percent of our entire staff to some level of Lean Six Sigma exposure, ranging from basic awareness at an introductory Yellow Belt or Champion level all the way to Black Belt specialist level. We now even have Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belts within the PremierFMCG team.”

It is key that everyone trained gets assigned a project from their business unit. The results from those projects drive potential Lean Six Sigma certification. Real-life processes must be worked on, and while achieving certification, a project must be executed.


Ingredient #4 - Simplicity

“We have always tried to use very simple scoping tools such as Pareto charts, CT trees,” Brian said. “These continue to help with the scoping down of projects to process level. We have been very meticulous about this. Sometimes, projects may appear too small when scoped to single process level, but the truth of the matter is you're focusing on the one process that really matters in the stream of processes.”

Fixing that one process that matters, having scoped properly, brings higher benefit than trying to fix everything and then failing because the scope is too large. There is no point in trying to fix everything, just fix what matters.


Ingredient #5 – Driving Decisions with Data

“Minitab Statistical Software and Companion by Minitab are the core of what we do in terms of driving execution decisions and project tracking,” Brian said. To analyze our data, to scope projects, to do root cause analysis with Ishikawa diagrams, to run risk analysis thanks to FMEA, we use the packages for a whole lot of decisions related kind of input.”

“The team needed to look at all processes including sales, order processing, scheduling, production chain, supply chain.

Analyzing the process value stream, the team was able to detect inconsistencies in the process and fix them. The service level improved from 46% to above 95%. That was a big achievement for the project team in Mozambique, he said.

In another project, rethinking a recipe formulation saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Ingredient #6 – Clearly Track Your Program

PremierFMCG was aware this program would require data-driven decisions and grow to hundreds of projects. To understand data, centralize reporting and monitor the program, they decided to partner with Minitab.

They had used SharePoint and Excel files to manage projects. Version control issues made everything difficult to keep track of and there was not enough visibility across the business. Brian said the projects and related documentation became too big and cumbersome to be managed via SharePoint.

“Companion by Minitab is a gem,” Brian said. “It’s beautiful for us. It works so perfectly. We have all our projects on one space, one platform. The whole business can see the projects … in the different countries, different bakeries, different mills.”


Ingredient #7 – Replicate Success

“You can see a whole lot of ideas that you can tap into, copy if you want to copy, because we basically say do not invent the wheel,” Brian said. “If there's a good idea that's sitting in Companion and you can replicate it at your location, why not?”