Bristol-Myers Squibb: Empowerment and Metrics Turn Plants Around

Bristol-Myers Squibb's Indiana Technical Operations Team has married simplicity and analytical sophistication across two sites, with impressive results.

TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD FINALIST,
LARGE-SCALE PROJECTS:
BMS's ITO GROUP


Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Indiana Technical Operations (ITO) group is comprised of two different sites. The Evansville facility, in existence for more than 40 years, has a rich history and culture, and a tenured work force where leadership has been based on seniority within the organization. The Mt. Vernon plant 15 miles away, which reopened in 1998 as a greenfield facility, has had a performance-driven system and modern plant management principles from day one. Evansville manufactures primarily prescription pharmaceuticals, while Mt. Vernon produces popular over-the-counter drugs such as Excedrin and Comtrex. A few years ago, however, one thing that both sites had in common was the prospect of closure.

Back then, departments operated as functional silos, yields and efficiencies lagged, inventory buildups were the norm, and workers did not seek to develop their careers.

Something had to change and it did. A major focus was the adoption of Lean principles. Acknowledging the need for additional resources, management relied on outside consultants to assist in the areas of team development, performance management software solutions, and methodologies to effect incremental, targeted change where needed. ITO senior director John Wellemeyer calls it a “homegrown” approach that balances the latest theoretical concepts with the practical needs of the two sites.

Judging from the results, the approach has worked:
  • Over the past several years, cycle time has been reduced by 80%. Management has drawn from sources such as “The Goal” and the World Class Manufacturing movement.

  • Following Factory Physics methodologies, the team has achieved a 75% work-in-progress (WIP) inventory reduction, and five times faster inventory turns.

  • Employee productivity (measured in output per employee hour) has more than doubled since the 1990s.

  • Product variability has significantly decreased. First-pass quality has risen to nearly 95% in the last three years.

  • Both sites currently have gone more than 800 days without a lost-work-time accident.

  • Employee communication and engagement has improved, as demonstrated by company survey results.
Great Expectations

Even more impressive than the numbers is ITO’s effort to empower all employees: to involve them in decision-making and project planning, train them in concepts as varied as team development, plant and corporate management, and finance and process analytics, and provide them opportunities for leadership and career growth.

“We want people to understand the dynamics of how a manufacturing system operates and to help them consistently apply our principles,” comments Wellemeyer. Technical Operations in Indiana is using this period of change to increase participation and raise expectations for all of its 550 employees.

Educating line operators on some sophisticated analytical concepts is one case in point. While Lean tends toward simplicity, the analytical aspects of Factory Physics, for instance, can be daunting, and yet ITO management have encouraged even entry-level exempt employees to learn them to some degree. To date, more than 90% of ITO management has completed a 14-week Factory Physics training course, with the expectation that concepts learned will cascade down throughout the manufacturing ranks.

Line workers are given access to information that enhances their ability to do their jobs. Software such as that provided by Invistics Corp. can track cycle times, customer service and yield, and is available to everyone in the two plants, not just site and corporate management. Many operators have access to plant floor computers for tracking processes and coordinating data in real time.

Increasing responsibilities and raising expectations has strengthened the cohesiveness between employees at both sites, says Mt. Vernon site director Mary Day.

Indifference to Titles

Training and education are key to the team’s success. Staff development initiatives are launched proactively, with a planned, modular approach, says Day. Employees know when sessions are coming, and know they’re expected to complete courses, albeit at their own pace. Workers are encouraged to stay in touch with broader issues affecting their site and Bristol-Myers Squibb overall. They regularly attend “town hall” meetings, for example, to hear and discuss site-specific and corporate issues in an open forum and to ensure alignment with the company’s overall business strategy.

Staff development efforts should offer opportunities for leadership and growth. ITO management aims to build in such opportunities whenever possible. One of its more experienced tablet press operators, for instance, headed a team responsible for a successful initiative to improve throughput and yield for a key product made in Evansville. The team included process engineers, line supervisors and quality staff.

The operator received skills training on leadership, particularly in areas such as preparing presentations and running meetings. As part of the process, a coach was available as needed to assist. It’s a matter of being “indifferent to titles,” says Mark Powell, head of ITO’s Operational Effectiveness Group and one of the architects of change. “If the best person to lead a team is the shop floor person, then everybody else follows the lead of this individual.”

Buying In

Powell says he’s seen an “amazing” difference in employees’ acceptance of management initiatives. People on the plant floor began to “buy in” when they witnessed increased interaction between employees and management. They saw that management listened to their concerns and suggestions, and appreciated the way leaders worked alongside them on key projects, he says. They also needed reassurance that change did not equal downsizing.


When people saw that they weren’t working themselves out of a job, “enthusiasm, passion and participation increased significantly,” Powell says.

It’s not just rank and file employees that have been transformed. Management, too, has learned to better understand and appreciate the value of employees in instituting change. “We wouldn’t even think of embarking on a project or putting in a new piece of equipment without having key people from the manufacturing floor involved,” says Day.

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