Action Learning to address small scale manufacturing

This case involves an international hardware manufacturing company engaged in the development, manufacture and sale of fittings for doors and windows. The company employs approximately 4,000 people worldwide and has manufacturing facilities in Austria, Germany and sales offices around the world. The company is acknowledged as the world market leader. The key to the success of the company is that they are able to produce large quantities of very high quality goods at a competitive price. All manufacturing processes therefore are designed for large scale production

The Challenge: The company expanded into products for doors as this market was growing. However in this market customers order smaller quantities and want shorter delivery times. The company suddenly had to handle many small orders with different parts quickly at a competitive price. This was a big problem as the door product range was always operating at a loss and no one knew a solution. For years, they could not solve the problem.

In 2012, we introduced action learning to solve the problem. The problem owner wanted to solve this problem with an interdisciplinary team of directors. An action learning set was formed by volunteers from sales, production, costing and quality management

Over a period of six months the action learning set met 10 times for about 2-3 hours. Between the sessions scenarios were developed for different prototypes. In only 6 months a completely new production concept was developed. The remarkable thing was that this concept was considered by all parties as feasible.

What was learned: Through the action learning program, participant‚Äôs mindsets changed so that they focused on the solution of the problem as a possibility. Previously, everyone thought that only large scale production was possible. Action Learning created a new “enabling space”, which made new solutions for small series production possible. The interdisciplinary team was able to solve all interface problems. The various concerns from the perspective of the different departments could be resolved by asking questions and discussing the unknown. Through action learning the different departments have discovered a better way of working together and saved the company from a crisis.