Creating the Pathway to Excellence for Australian manufacturers

The Association for Manufacturing Excellence is celebrating the 20th year of its Australian Chapter. In an open letter to AME members, president Barry McCarthy has encouraged members to show their support for Australian manufacturing and manufacturing excellence by attending the AME Toronto 2020 Virtual Conference.


The association has launched a new series of training events, made up of webinars, coaching, activities and lectures.

“What we’ve done over the past three or four months is build a really strong online presence running weekly webinars. We’re getting really good attendance from different parts of the world as well,” McCarthy said. “We found during COVID-19, in redesigning our business, we’ve been able to get more people involved than we have before. We’re probably in a stronger position and from a training perspective.”

Webinar, workshop and practitioner series will include sessions based on topics such as innovation, leadership, Lean manufacturing and business operations during COVID-19.

AME vice president, Tim Odokeychuk, said the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed the Australian Chapter to become aligned more closely with the parent company in the US.

“For the Pathway to Excellence (program), we’re working really closely with AME in North America, and this has brought us much closer,” he said. “We recognise there are teams coming together, and a good part of our membership engages us to network and hear from their concerns.”

The association has conducted 22 webinars since May to support its member base and network. Sessions were kept free for members and non-members, with the understanding the pandemic has posed a difficult time for businesses.

“Allowing people to get that learning and training during this time, especially while working from home, is also a good opportunity for us to get access to a wider audience as well in a virtual setting,” said AME business manager, Laura Robertson.

The AME network currently has 210 members across Australia and reaches 2,300 organisations through its database. This year, memberships were extended for three months to support current members.

According to Robertson, the organisation has had really good engagement and response, but also gained a better understanding of what its member groups want and the issues they’re facing. Following that, it then has shaped its programs around those issues and problems.

“It’s been very broad. A lot of it has been around employee engagement and employee development, but also a lot of the lean tools as well. We are now introducing workshops,” explained Robertson.

In addition, AME has started to introduce more learning events, workshops in a virtual setting, roundtable discussion groups, including Lean Sensei assessments.

“We have a lot of feedback from the companies in relation is how can our events support all areas of their organisation, so we have developed a model,” said Robertson. “While restructuring this model, we’ve created a members portal where we’ve saved recordings and slides for those who can’t attend.”

Lean Sensei

The AME Lean Sensei is a self-assessment tool used in conjunction with the Pathway to Excellence webinar events series to help leadership teams and individuals develop operational excellence strategies. Since 2016, any organisation can do a complete 360-degree assessment of their excellence journey.

AME is starting the first facilitated Lean Sensei assessments in November, while keeping track of the problems solved, methodologies used, the practitioners, and how AME’s collateral corporate members are trying to engage with each other.

“We get a team together and essentially see where they fit in terms of different key elements,” said Odokeychuk. “For example, and very important to now, how resilient is their supply chain? How they partner with their suppliers as opposed to command and control, and ultimately, get to a point where they’re moving up the maturity scale – this helps an organisation form a baseline, and from there, they have a starting point.”

“They can focus on a couple of key gaps, because, following that, they get a report card, and then they get a dashboard – and we’re also building all of the resources that AME offers behind it, such as the recorded webinars that we’ve done, training sessions, and also specific training courses as well,” Odokeychuk explained.

“If we think of all the different areas we are covering off, it is not just in the manufacturing business, but from the perspective of management systems to people-centric leadership, health and safety operations, knowledge base, all the way to product development.”

The Champions Club, which will launch in Australia this year, mirrors the North American initiative. The key benefit for members is the opportunity to meet and network with peers who have similar problems and responsibilities on a monthly basis.

“The Champions Club is where members will be able to share common challenges, or even visit each other’s facilities over time, and to form this cohort of leaders of manufacturing in Australia,” said Odokeychuk. “That’s the framework. The aim is to connect a company’s journey with the AME Lean Sensei and link the Pathway to Excellence to individual career growth.”

How to use the AME Lean Sensei

1. Evaluate your operations

Have 5 to 10 key staff members or key knowledgeable associates come together in one room. Include people who have little to do with direct responsibilities for your improvement program activities. Discuss each question and arrive at a letter grade for each answer. The AME Lean Sensei should be used as a systematic process for your team to improve. It is not a survey to be given to all employees but should be used by a team that has some familiarity with basic lean principles.

A+ = Best in class – World-class benchmark
A = Excellent – Sustainable with great results
B = Good results – Definitely going in the right direction
C = On the journey – Some process gaps but striving for improvement
D = More gaps than achievements – Definite area for improvement
F = No achievements in this area – No process documented or followed

2. Understand how you rank against the benchmark

Once you select a letter grade for every question, the app will populate the dashboard and report card automatically. With this information, you can easily see your improvement maturity strengths and weaknesses.

3. Develop improvement plans for the future

The letter scoring is the easy part of the AME Lean Sensei. To truly get the most benefit from the tool you must take the next step. Document where you are today and develop plans for where you want to be in the future! The app encourages you to document and support your assessment for both your successes and the areas you need to improve.

4. Celebrate your lean journey

There is no end to the continuous improvement journey. It’s important to review and celebrate your progress along the way!