Bob’s Red Mill was founded in 1978 to provide wholesome stone-ground flour and grain to local markets. In 2010, after years of successful growth, ownership of the company was transferred to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Bob’s Red Mill currently employs over 600 staff with four production shifts at the Milwaukie facility.
OMEP was invited to help the Continuous Improvement team build an effective training and development process so that they could grow the entire organization’s capacity for ongoing operational excellence. Bill Lozier, Chief Operating Officer stated,
“We wanted a structured approach to getting better on the shop floor. We wanted to know how to measure ourselves. How do we learn from our mistakes and make improvements? We didn’t have a clear structure to do this.”
A major goal of the operations group was to increase the efficiency of large equipment installation projects, with a primary focus on reducing the time required to install and commission product packaging lines. Additionally, because Bob’s Red Mill is an employee-owned company, they wished to empower all employees in the organization to improve their strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities. They desired all staff to be working toward the same production Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to better measure the effectiveness of operations. Ultimately, Bob’s Red Mill wanted to help production personnel gain more ownership in how their areas function.
OMEP’s on-site consultants adopted a blended continuous improvement approach with Bob’s Red Mill, focusing on problem solving, capacity creation and culture building. To do this, OMEP worked closely with the Operations leadership team to identify which processes to focus on.
Safety, in general, was selected as the vehicle for problem-solving training. It was accessible and relatable to everyone in the plant and didn’t require any of the staff to have special technical knowledge to be able to participate meaningfully. The new equipment Installation process was also selected as a target area to teach project management and build additional production capacity quickly. Increasing capacity was a priority for the organization. In each case, OMEP created customized training for the Bob’s Red Mill team and then used real-world events and projects to practice the new skills.
Bill said, “I was pleasantly surprised at the increased level of interest everyone had in the process. Our Continuous Improvement meetings were open to anyone in the organization, and we saw engagement with every level of employee.”
As the Bob’s Red Mill team and OMEP continued to partner to achieve goals, they engaged in regular post-mortem reviews of completed projects, helping the Bob’s Red Mill team integrate what they learned into their next projects. Additional Continuous Improvement tools such as visual tracking boards at the packaging lines, Gemba walk routines, and individual leadership coaching engagements were included, allowing Bob’s Red Mill develop their culture not only in Operations but also in HR, New Product Development, Customer Service, and other parts of the organization.
The problem-solving methodology and tools have translated to all departments. “You can even see an idea board in the customer service department, covered with sticky notes,” says Bill
Not only did OMEP and Bob’s Red Mill’s partnership improve their culture, it also translated into bottom line savings. Packaging line productivity improved by at least five percent, allowing them to fulfill increasing demands from customers. The increased productivity resulted in a lower cost per unit produced. The increased speed and efficiency of the new equipment installation process also helped the capacity situation by reducing installation time by 20%.
In terms of both sales and production, Bob’s Red Mill continues to experience record weeks compared to where they were last year. Finally, OMEP’s expertise proved invaluable with the recruiting and hiring of personnel in the engineering department. The workload has been balanced out, improving the efficiency of the engineering team.
The effects of the new thought process have blossomed throughout the company. For new product development, Bob’s Red Mill is utilizing a scrum board. Their equipment planning process is documented, lines are running on time and in budget, and communication between departments is clear and open.
Even in the time of COVID-19 and social distancing, OMEP has remained an important partner to Bob’s Red Mill and continues to support their continuous improvement initiatives, leadership and cultural development and provide project management assistance, as needed. We are currently working together to proactively predict and eliminate potential causes of product quality issues as part of BRM’s ongoing continuous improvement program. By implementing these cultural changes, Bob’s Red Mill is poised for continued growth and success.
By working with OMEP our workforce, from the floor staff on up, discovered a new way of operating and thinking. We can apply this to any project or problem. We originally came to OMEP to learn about increasing machine productivity, but we have instead created an entirely new, more effective method of working.