Why Did I Get Into Improvement? The People Version #write52

Easy, Onions.

Why Improvement? People

Why Did I Get Into Improvement? People + Crispy Fried Onions

Crispy Fried Onions to be precise.

My first full time job after University was a baptism in a growing business.

Overseeing the processing of vegetables in a business supplying 5 sister factories.

We bought daily, made daily, stock turns were measured in hours.

We had 5 sets of orders to complete, for the 5 different factories.

A vast range of different cuts, slices and dices, often manually, to produce every day and night.

Do you know how many ways you can cut a carrot, peppers, tomatoes??



We measured labour inputs, yields, introduced traceability systems, HACCP systems (paper-ones).

To keep UK supermarkets and household fridges stocked up with Coleslaws, Ready Meals, Soups, Sauces and Dips. The demand was constantly increasing and at certain times of the year our demand could soar 300%, in just a few days, managing staffing levels was a constant juggle. Oh and we didn’t have a ZERO hours contract in sight – we planned who we needed, when. That’s a post for another time.

One day an order arrived for a quantity of onions to be produced in a certain way to a certain spec to be able to be fried. It came from R&D, the New Product Introduction team to be exact.

It took 5 people 6 hours to prep them, 30 hours of staff, preparing onions. 30 hours of staff time that I probably never had spare before. ARRGH! Soon the final product was selling well, the volumes increased. They needed more staff time. 😱.

Can you imagine the tears 😭 mine for planning and ALL those onions 🧅🧅🧅??

We couldn’t increase the staffing fast enough, the labour requirement was killing us.

I dropped into R&D where they developed the product, which they’d cut by hand and written the spec for us. After a few questions about the product I stumbled upon the killer question

“What exactly do you need, for the customer?”

Within seconds they’d mentioned the size & shape of the cut they needed to fry the onions, that was what they needed. I was convinced we could do that via our dicing machines, not just by hand. Gathering a technician, the Product Development staff, a machine and bag of onions we set on our task.

An hour later we had the perfect cut from a machine; a quick calculation and it was apparent the entire production could now be done in 15-20 minutes, by one person, down from 6 people for 5 hours.

It wasn’t my improvement.

Once the Development staff let go of the “how” but retained ownership of the “what” (the customer wants), the technician started on experimenting, soon we’d delivered the desired output.

My input was just the permission for the technician to use time and his knowledge of the machine setting couple it with the guidance from the Development team and see if we could make it from a machine.

I did little but facilitate the time and remove the pressure to deliver and yet I’d removed my major staffing headaches.

I still remember the faces, when we got our answer.

The Development team had a product which could grow and was now considerably cheaper to make.

The Technician had contributed his knowledge and experience, not just completed machine changeovers.

We’d used our collective time to solve a problem.

Looking back it was probably my first Kaizen ( “Change for the Better”) event, no training, no ice-breakers, no PowerPoint, no slides, just a problem to solve; after all it was just a Friday in 1993 in a cold veg processing unit, no more than 4 degrees as well.

I do remember watching everyone realise what they’d contributed and what they’d gained. We did meet in the pub after work and it was great knowing what we’d delivered.

We’d cut production time from 30 hours to 20 minutes. A reduction of 98.8%, not bad eh?

I realised I need to more of this drug…the improvement one that is.


#Write52  #Write52/2

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