Productivity Improvers is a Lean consultancy built from first-hand experience of Tasmanian manufacturing and a love for the island state and its people. Now it’s bringing US Lean guru Paul Akers over to help local manufacturers reach their full potential.

Clynton Jaffray and Michael Bonney grew up in the rural north west of Tasmania, and as local lads they learnt to care for the place they love to call home. They met while both working as tradesmen at Caterpillar Elphinstone in the 1990s, and progressed to become 6Sigma Black Belts in the early 2000s, travelling to Japan to ‘learn Lean’. This mind-changing trip changed their life’s journey and how they viewed the world – a familiar story for Lean practitioners.

In early 2013 they started Productivity Improvers, a Lean consultancy business that has now engaged with more than 100 Tasmanian firms. The company has developed and delivered a suite of sought-after university and VET training programs, with more 500 people completing these programs in the last three years. Jaffray and Bonney love helping improve Tasmanian people and businesses and are passionate about a Tasmania that continually improves its economic and social standing.

In 2016, they approached international Lean expert (and self-confessed ‘Lean Maniac’) Paul Akers to come to Tasmania and engage with their clients. Akers agreed, provided the schedule could accommodate a much-needed holiday for himself and his wife Leanne. It’s often said that most people are just looking for an excuse to go to Tasmania, and Akers had found one.

Akers is the founder and president of FastCap LLC, a US-based product development company manufacturing products for the industries ranging from cabinetmaking to coffee. After Akers discovered Lean and the Toyota Production System, Fastcap grew from a garage-based operation into a multi-million dollar company. Using Lean, Akers’s company has prospered and expanded even in times of economic downturn. He has never had to lay off an employee, nor cut one salary.

Akers is an energetic speaker whose core passion is helping people discover their full potential in life and teaching others how to implement Lean thinking for their own business and personal success. Akers has thousands of followers of his weekly broadcast, ‘The American Innovator’ in which he teaches about the power of innovation and Lean thinking. He has authored the books and DVDs ‘Two-Second Lean’ and ‘Lean Health’, and commands a huge social media following, posting blogs and YouTube clips almost daily with more than 130,000 viewers. In short, anyone around the world who knows Lean knows the name Paul Akers.

Akers will visit the island state in March, starting on 2 March with business tours of the Nekon Group of companies in Hobart and an invitation-only dinner in Burnie. He will visit sponsoring businesses in the North West the following day, before headlining a two-hour Lean Forum at the University of Tasmania Cradle Coast campus that afternoon. The tour has been arranged exclusively by Productivity Improvers as it strives to build on the competitive advantage demonstrated by businesses who embrace Lean. Akers is uniquely placed to strengthen the collective understanding of Lean and help build its momentum in Tasmania.

Attracting local support

The team at Productivity Improvers was not surprised when the always-innovative Tasmanian commercial sector pledged support for the Paul Akers tour. Those supporters will dine with Akers the night before the public forum and hear his own story. The following day he will spend time with several major regional employers, doing his ‘favourite thing’ – working with people through Gemba walks. In Lean, Gemba refers to the ‘real place’ – observing where the work is being done, as opposed to discussing a warehouse problem in a conference room. It allows for observation and interacting with the people where the work is happening, all done in the spirit of Kaizen (“change for the better”).

Elphinstone Pty Ltd and Simplot Australia are two of the businesses who will receive visits from Akers. Both businesses have well entrenched Lean systems and practices in their Tasmanian sites and are continuingly training their staff through Productivity Improvers. Both businesses agree that collaboration is essential to doing business in Tasmania, and are pleased to be able to support Akers’ visit, which they know will benefit many of their supply chain businesses and others across the state.

In one fabulously Tasmanian story, Dale Elphinstone started modifying Caterpillar surface mining equipment to suit underground applications out of his father’s shed on their Burnie farm in 1975. Over the next 20 years Elphinstone delivered underground mining machines to more than 50 locations around Australia and more than 35 global export sites across five continents. In 1995, Caterpillar Elphinstone Pty Ltd was established. As a recognised Caterpillar OEM, manufacturing Haulmax 3900 series off-highway haul trucks, Railmax RMT14D road-rail excavators and Elphinstone underground support vehicles, the company still calls Tasmania home and continues to support and rely upon the specialised design, engineering and manufacturing knowledge of the skilled local workforce.

To the east of Burnie is the township of Ulverstone, whose rich farming land make it ideally placed for Simplot’s state-of-the-art potato-processing factory. Employing more than 250 people and processing more than 250,000 tonnes of potatoes each year, Simplot sources its product from around 150 local growers.

Part of the JR Simplot Company since 1995, the company focuses on “Bringing Earth’s Resources to Life” in a sustainable way so that Australians can always eat well. That desire has seen Simplot build long-term partnerships with Australian farmers and supply-chain companies, investing in its people, and committing to the long-term sustainability of the Earth’s natural resources. These principles are consistent with the Lean philosophies of Productivity Improvers.

Courtney Sutton, Production Manager at Simplot, grabbed the chance to support Productivity Improvers when Jaffray and Bonney announced that they had committed to hosting Akers to visit Tasmania.

“These guys know that to grow and realise sustained potential, Tasmanian businesses need to be exposed to world’s-best practice,” said Sutton. “They are committed to businesses being nationally and international competitive whilst being innovative and caring for their people, and at Simplot that’s what drives us every day.

“We continue to see great results from the training our staff receive. Collaborating on this event was a great way to support innovation in our community.”

Clearly others think so as well, with state-wide entities like the University of Tasmania (UTas), Hydro and the Department of State Growth also adding their support to Akers’ visit. The Federal Government’s Entrepreneurs Programme has supported entry to the two-hour public forum, ensuring that price to entry is not a barrier to the myriad of SMEs that have registered to attend.

UTas, the state’s only university, immediately grasped the opportunity for both students and industry colleagues to be exposed to Akers’ unique messages, hosting the event at its Cradle Coast campus in Burnie and arranging to live-stream the forum to Launceston and Hobart. With a focus on its new Associate Degrees, allowing students to develop academic and practical skills through collaborative/laboratory and work-integrated learning, UTas shares the vision of Productivity Improvers.

“We want business to be the best it can be – constantly researching, innovating and exploring new markets,” said Professor Janelle Allison. “These businesses will create demand and fabulous careers for the students that are coming in increasing numbers to our campuses. Exposure to speakers such as Paul Akers helps stimulate the entrepreneurial thinking that UTas and Tasmania is renowned for.

“Many of our current students will attend, along with our staff, who have received Lean training from Clynton and Michael over recent years. Live-streaming will utilise the technology that we have at our disposal and ensure as many people as possible can have access to Paul.”

The forum has attracted national and international attention with attendees from SMEs in Western Australia and New Zealand travelling to the island state, along with managers from rapidly expanding vehicle repair and maintenance provider RGM Maintenance based in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

“We are stoked with the support and the enthusiasm,” said Jaffray. “Our mission is to engrain Lean into Tasmania’s DNA. Many people share that vision; we just went one step further and invited Paul to come and share his passions with us. Hearing it from another is the best way to learn.”

Jaffray and Bonney say that it is the least they could do for the state that has given them so much. They have travelled the world through their careers but home is where the heart is and, emotions aside, the boys say there’s never been a better time to be doing business in Tasmania or with a Tasmanian business.

“Everyone is pulling together down here with some great results, and we are so proud to be part of that.”

Paul Akers will be running a two-hour Lean Forum on 3 March at the University of Tasmania’s Cradle Coast Campus in Burnie. The event is free of charge and is supported by the Federal Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme. For details, visit the Productivity Improvers website.