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From Firefighting to Getting Started With Continuous Improvement

Posted by Mark Graban

Sep 11, 2014 7:13:00 AM


Read the previous post in this series


Successful business leaders today are faced with mounting pressures of changing consumer demands, qualityand safety requirements, and employee expectations. To see how some executives are enabling their organizations to stay relevant, survive, and grow, we're beginning a new blog series in which we'll interview executive leadership in various industry sectors and ask about the challenges they face and what they're doing to rise to the occasion. 

In this post, KaiNexus VP of Customer Success Mark Graban interviews Dave Fisher, CEO of Supra Doors, a manufacturer based near San Antonio, Texas.

Mark: Can you start off by introducing yourself, and can you tell us a little about Supra Doors?

Dave: I'm Dave Fisher, the CEO of Supra Doors. Supra Doors was founded in ’92; it was a very small door manufacturing company, and it has migrated from making wood doors to interior MDS doors, which we now do. We moved in 2005 to a new factory and changed the entire style of the business. We moved it from a small residential-type standard door construction to a more commercialized, customized job-type construction of big projects, specializing now in high-rise hotels, high-rise condos, high-end homes, and in addition to the doors, a lot of value-adding services.

Mark: And how long have you been with the company? How long have you been CEO?

Dave: I’ve been CEO since 2007. 

Mark: The main theme for the interview series that we’re doing here with different executives is the idea of what keeps you up at night. What are the types of things you’re trying to deal with as a CEO?

Dave: I will tell you that the basics that do not keep me up is building the sales, getting the orders, and growing the company. What keeps us up is the nature of production, the consistency of process in the manufacturing of the doors to ensure that the same thing is made later in the year as was made earlier in the year – that’s point one. And the second thing is to ensure that the engineering of each part that you make – since it does vary as you go to new customization for a particular job – that the engineering is accurate and therefore saving the “oops” factor.

Mark: And for those different concerns – consistency of the process and the accuracy of engineering – what sorts of different continuous improvement strategies do you use within Supra Doors to help alleviate some of those concerns?

Dave: So until the early part of this year, very few other than instantaneous fire fighting. Since about four to five, maybe six months ago, we now check all of the 19 departments by day, by the exact door number that went through each department, on a document that lists the important points of quality that need to be achieved as each door goes through that point. So, we now ask the supervisor at each station to check a box for each quality point and sign at the bottom, and also list the ticket numbers of all the parts that went through on that day. So that’s the quality process that we’re trying to start recording so that we can then, after that, start seeking from the recording of defects at get to continuous improvement then. 

Mark: It sounds like it’s maybe a bit of a checklist that you’ve developed to make sure certain things are happening. Is that right? 

Dave: Yes. The fact is that a checklist is happening, but we’re not sure that the checklist is really happening – a piece of paper says it is – and so we’ve hired a person, starting Monday, to be the Quality Assurance Director. And that person’s job is going to be 100 percent on continuous improvement. They’re going to be responsible for being at all the stations daily physically watching, mentoring, teaching, and coaching, and seeing how the process is happening and noting if it’s not. And so we check that the process is in fact happening on the product and not just on the paper.

Mark: Sure. There are similar challenges, just thinking about working in healthcare, how sometimes there are things that happen that don’t get documented, and then sometimes there are things that get documented where people are just ticking the box because there’s pressure to show that the box has been checked, and that doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. It’s a similar challenge, right?

Dave: Right. 

Mark: Are you also doing sort of formal Kaizen events beyond that continuous improvement?

Dave: No. We had some years ago a guy who was trying that, but what we eventually threw out the whole idea, reengineered the whole factory and created a new production line. From here, we think it’s a possibility but it’s not a big focus of ours – the word Kaizen – any longer. It’s more continuous improvement, and at the same time we’re also looking to hire, immediately, a manufacturing engineer who can implement the second half of what I said in my very first answer to what keeps me up at night – number one, the process consistency, and number two, the engineering perfection – and so what we want to do is translate anything that comes from what we find in process to engineer a connection and change the manufacturing process. So we’re looking for that additional part that can work hand in hand with the engineer and the Director of Quality Assurance. Between those two people, they can ensure a consistent product and a good product.

Mark: Sure. Yeah, because we would agree at KaiNexus – regardless of what you call it, whether you’re using the term Kaizen or not, what really matters is making sure you’re doing what you said you’re supposed to be doing, and making sure there’s continuous improvement through (like you said) coaching and supervision. That’s really important.

As a final question: do you have any final advice for other CEOs that are thinking about trying to get started with an approach to continuous improvement? Do you have any other advice or lessons learned?

Dave: Well first of all, I would say that I am still very much on the seeking advice side of that equation. But although I’m seeking, I am learning that there has to be dedication to people that really are taught and then learn by on the job training exactly what the product needs to be looking like. And I’ve learned that it has got to be consistently checked because when you walk away hoping that the supervisor will do it, it has still got to be documentation which is what I’m learning. And so I would caution anyone not to just trust that it’s all going to happen as long as you checked as it happens. Which I guess is the whole point of continuous improvement, and I get ISO-9000 data recorded. I’m also still seeking more than I’m giving in the realm of advice 

Mark: Well sure. And with that, I want to thank you, Dave. Our guest has been Dave Fisher the CEO of Supra Doors. I certainly want to thank you for talking with us today. Good luck with the continued learning and the continued improvement.


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