Continuous improvement at RWE Hydropower

In October 2020, HillFive started an improvement project at RWE Hydro.

Bernd Heimbach and Rienk van der Vaart, both experienced Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belts, spoke with their contact at RWE Hydro about the impact that can be achieved by implementing a structured process for continuous improvement. The team at RWE Hydro was already very successful, yet there was greater potential both for personal growth and for creating a real business impact in the company’s results. In consultation with RWE Hydro, six key improvement projects were identified.

A number of employees were asked to work on these improvements and, while they were at it, take part in the training programme to become certified Green Belts.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 related restrictions on travel and on-site meetings, this would not prove to be an easy task. The final programme was delivered entirely online and, where necessary, in different languages, which gave this programme an extra international dimension.

What was the reason why this project was considered such a success?

Simply put, because the programme was not just a ‘standard’ training. Besides transferring the Lean theory, a lot of attention was paid to a number of ‘soft’ factors. For example stakeholder management, the involvement of sponsors per project and change management skills within the organisation. The personal development of the participants had a prominent role by applying this approach.

In the end, they had to really solve a problem relevant to the organisation. The importance of fostering a feedback loop between clients and participants often plays a crucial role in this regard.

“You can only achieve successes when the people around you see it the same

What is the importance of the different roles involved in the programme?

The more different layers there are within an organisation, the greater the need for coordination and the associated bureaucracy. This is often an obstacle to achieving the desired end result within the projects. This is one of the reasons why it is essential that sponsors (the business owners of the projects) are on the same page as the participants and that the sponsors actively support the participants during the execution of their improvement project.

How did it work to do the whole programme online?

Running a Green Belt course online is always a challenge, but this did not stop HillFive and RWE Hydro from starting and making it a success. At the end of the day, 100% of the participants were present at each session. Bernd believes that the high attendance rate was due to the intrinsic motivation of the participants, which was fostered by the importance of their work. In addition, our coaches ensured that a sense of mutual trust was created. What is discussed in the team, stays in the team’.

“All projects matter. The outcome has proven business relevant in all cases”

During the online sessions, attention was also paid to building personal relationships with the participants. For this purpose, extra breaks were inserted and one of the participants came up with the idea of making a joint playlist with everyone’s music.

How did you celebrate success at the end?

As the old English saying goes: the more, the better. Before celebrating success with the team, Bernd and Rienk made sure that everyone would actually succeed, so that no one would be left behind. Bernd believes that “it is our responsibility as coaches to make sure they get through it as one team”. This is only possible if the participants themselves have the confidence, so our coaches emphasise all their successes and make sure they are supported enough to reach the end result. In conclusion, a ceremony was organised at which the participants were presented with the official Lean Competency System certificate by members of the management team and appreciated extensively for their efforts and results.

How was the impact measured?

Setting concrete measurable goals is an important aspect in our projects; it enables you to think about what is achievable and what you would have to do in concrete terms to achieve it. That is why we set a project result of €25,000 as a minimum requirement for qualification. In the end, all projects actually yielded more. In fact, the motivation during this project was so great that in one case a participant who had already found € 60,000 in improvement potential realised even more improvement. The project return of the improvement project increased to no less than € 350,000.

This above scenario emphasises the intangible aspect of impact. Our approach stems from genuine involvement that manifests itself in commitment to the development of the participants and the achievement of business results. This inspires people to want to go for it and to seek help when they need it.

Our standard is not to simply get the job done; the goal is to leave a lasting impression so that we can take our cooperation to the next level.

Photo: Run-of-river hydroelectric power station Lehmen, Moselle River, Germany




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