DEARBORN - As the new team structure continues to be implemented at Ford plants throughout North America, Process Coaches – formerly Supervisors – are settling into their new roles.
Those who previously oversaw plant operations on the floor are now taking on more of a strategic responsibility for their teams, leveraging resources and instituting continuous improvements.
“The Process Coach plays a critical role in the transformation of our manufacturing facilities,” said Liliana Ramirez-Jones, manager, North American Ford Production System (FPS). “By having this structure in place we can engage the Process Coaches not only in just managing the day to day but also in thinking about how can we make the process better tomorrow.
According to Ramirez-Jones, there are three critical aspects to the Process Coaches’ new role: coaching and building the capability of team leaders and the overall team; driving continuous improvement in their area; and shifting their thinking from putting “fires” out on a day-to-day basis to being more strategic and looking toward the future.
“The Team Leader needs to focus on the day-to-day activities and the Process Coach needs to evolve into the role of improving the process,” she said.
The Process Coach also plays an important part in Issues Escalation.
“They really have their finger on the pulse of the day-to-day activities of the team and issues or abnormalities that come up,” explained Ramirez-Jones. “As issues are escalated, it is now their job to communicate them and contact the support organization to make sure that they get resolved.”
According to Keith Kleinsmith, director, Human Resources Global Manufacturing, the changing role of the Process Coach is part of a cultural evolution at Ford plants from a more traditional organization where leaders direct employees to a team-based organization of support where each person has a voice.
“It’s a complete shift in how we view the business,” he said. “It’s critical that the role of team leader and process coach become higher priorities in the business. In truth, they are the ones who are going to run the daily business. They are responsible for the operators, delivery of products and maintaining the integrity of our operating systems.”
John Milkovich has been a Supervisor at the Dearborn Truck Plant for the last three years and a Process Coach at the Dearborn Truck Plant for the past six months. He describes the changes going on at his facility as “a work in progress.”
“It used to be more of a hierarchal structure where everything flowed from the top down. Now it is becoming more of a team environment, but it hasn’t completely evolved yet,” he said. “Different people are at different places in this journey. I still help put out fires and help out with different things, but I’m doing more with my new role as are the Team Leaders.”
Becky Barnell has been in a supervisory role at the Buffalo Stamping Plant since 2001. She assumed the title of Process Coach last fall.
“Instead of being here to log downtime, chase after who needs to come in and fix things and move manpower around – which ends up being a heavy task all day – I’m able to take all that information, compile it into a report and then follow up on the details so that we can put projects in place to make things run better,” she said.
Barnell says her new responsibilities make her feel more accomplished.
“It makes me feel like we’re actually moving the pendulum,” she said. “I don’t like coming in to the same problem every day so I think it makes a difference to be able to sit down with the problem and work it to resolution instead of not having the time because the line broke down and I need to be doing something else.”
She says she believes in the philosophy behind the FPS and the way that the teams are structured.
“For me, FPS means progress as a whole for all of us instead of me just making a decision on what I know with my own knowledge,” she said. “It really pulls in everybody’s knowledge and helps us find solutions.
Everybody’s ideas are significant and I don’t think Ford would be who they are without the knowledge that all these guys bring to the table.”
“I agree in principle that it’s the way to go. We’re coaching the Team Leaders to fix some of the issues on their own,” he said. “In the not-too-distant past, a visit from the Supervisor meant you were probably in trouble and if an Engineer showed up at your job, you were likely getting work added. Now we want people to understand that Process Coaches and the Engineering support groups are a resource for the Team Leader to help solve problems that they can’t solve on their own.”