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"A Lean approach from ordering to billing"

Yves Michel Yves Michel - Primagaz


"A Lean approach from ordering to billing"

Gas distributor Primagaz has launched a major offensive to optimise the efficiency of its processes. Based on the Lean method, its aim is to achieve tangible results by bringing together the support and production functions. Yves Michel, Director of Information Systems, responsible for projects and continuous improvement, explains more.



Over the last two years, we have overhauled our organisation and structured it into two specific business units ("bottles" and "energy"), involving major changes to the mapping of our agencies. These major changes have had a significant impact on the company's processes, management method, daily operations and the reference points of employees. For this reason, we decided to overhaul the "Order To Cash" (OTC) process. The company's backbone, it runs from order-taking to customer delivery and billing.
The goal is to optimise the efficiency of this process within this new organisation and to get employees on board via a large-scale project, while restoring their reference points based on group work to ensure ownership of the project.



When we launched the Order To Cash project, we set the bar high by fixing an obligation of tangible results. The past failure of our change projects was probably due to a lack of structuring. This time, we were going the whole way - we had to if we wanted to rebuild trust and win support - which is why we decided to call on the operational support of Quaternaire and its tried and tested methodology.



The executive management committee set a clear goal: improve the administrative effectiveness of all "Order To Cash" processes, while taking advantage of our new organisation in which the customer is central to our concerns.
This configuration had to drive up the company's standards, and deliver a clear improvement in our processes by reducing all glitches and sources of non-quality, from billing to stocks and logistics. It was a cross-functional action that helped us improve our collective effectiveness using a Lean approach and had a bearing on all activities including approaching customers, signing contracts, initiating customer relationships, first delivery, billing, sustaining customer relationships, and so on.


Illustration 1 PRIMAGAZ



To underscore the cross-functional nature of the challenge and to make it operational, unusually for our company we chose a breakthrough project method that brought together functional staff (head office), shop floor employees (sales agencies and logistics sites), and customer contact operatives. One of the highlights of the two "Lean breakthroughs" ("bottles" and "energy" activities) that launched the approach, was a meeting between head office/shop floor staff who did not know one another and who discovered each other's work. Each of the Lean breakthroughs, which included three days of analyses in multidisciplinary working groups, revealed a lack of mutual knowledge that was obviously detrimental to the deployment of the processes to which they are supposed to contribute together. These breakthroughs were key moments that revealed new ways of addressing problems, in a cross-functional manner, especially since we involved customers who came to express their needs and dissatisfaction. These breakthroughs generated genuine enthusiasm and a spirit of competition.



While the shop floor - the sales agencies and logistics sites - retained the leadership of the project, it was essential that the involvement of senior management found practical expression in operational areas. The project benefited from a high level of sponsoring by members of the executive management committee, who managed it in their respective areas. This strong signal was recognised and appreciated by the shop floor. Beyond the intention and the given resources, it enabled managers to work alongside teams - go to gemba! - and to listen to their feedback, understand problems and successes, and take part in analyses and decision-making with teams.

It is meaningful and, while not always easy, it is consistently fruitful. The personal investment of each member of the executive management committee, who effectively "go the extra mile", is a cornerstone of a successful project and a means of avoiding the apathy that greeted previous projects.

"...each member of the executive management committee 'goes the extra mile' and works to make the project a success"



Although we set ourselves ambitious goals, the results sometimes exceeded our expectations. A lot of people are involved - between 80 to 100 out of 800 employees - and a large number of workshops are organised on the shop floor to manage the huge volume of actions decided (around 200) and to prioritise them by topic and according to different timescales: rapid victories, medium-term victories, long projects, and so on. The indicators implemented reveal a promising level of progress, including 20% fewer customer complaints about non-quality billing or warehouse/customer logistics lead times. There has already been an overall improvement in our efficiency on certain processes in one year of an estimated 20%. And the momentum shows no signs of slowing since we are implementing visual management to take the approach further and to establish it sustainably by entrusting line managers with the coordination of continuous improvement actions within their scope of responsibility.


Illustration 2 PRIMAGAZ



The success of this project lies first in its ownership by teams, a result of the shop floor approach, in the pragmatic pace of its deployment, which takes into account seasonality, for example, but also in communication on the shop floor, which entails describing what is happening in the agencies and on sites, by sharing stories that make day-to-day sense to the shop floor. Because the purpose of the project is to change our corporate culture, we want to sustainably develop our teams, motivate them, and build their capacity to think about the long-term future rather than the immediate task in hand. Beyond the current operational advances, this project gives the company the capacity to achieve and to organise continuous improvement over time.




A long-standing gas distribution operator in France, Primagaz distributes butane and propane gas in bottles and tanks.
With nearly 800 employees, its organisation was completely overhauled in 2011 around two subsidiaries: "bottles" and "energy".