Powering through projects with Quality Companion

Paul Boughton

Quality Companion organises and manages all types of quality improvement projects within one application.

Phoenix Contact develops, manufactures, and distributes industrial electrical and electronic technology products that power, protect, connect, and automate systems and equipment across many different industries. The company produces more than 25,000 products, and delivering the highest quality to customers is the company's focus from product design through each stage of the manufacturing process.

With so many products, process optimisation is a vital piece of Phoenix Contact's continuous improvement culture, and the company does many transactional and manufacturing improvement projects every year. Project teams were using a variety of software tools to do various tasks, which required team members to manually enter project data over and over again, keying the same information into each different project form. When the company adopted Quality Companion by Minitab to manage their entire Lean Six Sigma initiative, they immediately began saving time and money by using only one application to manage and execute all their improvement projects. "Companion provides everything we need in a single application," says Joe Russo, Master Black Belt.

"It transformed our continuous improvement deployment from a manual system into an efficient, integrated program."[Page Break]

The Challenge

Phoenix Contact is a vertically integrated company: it controls the design, production, assembly, and logistics for each product it delivers. Continuous improvement projects across each of these product development stages, as well as projects to improve transactional business functions like customer service, were scattered across the company's network in multiple files, formats, and folders.

It became difficult for improvement teams to update and locate project documentation. It also became challenging for management to track and report a project's status to company stakeholders.

Because a variety of software programs were used to create project forms and templates, all project information had to be entered manually. Forms weren't capable of automatically sharing common information, so team members had to spend valuable time copying and pasting shared information from one form to another. And any time information that appeared on multiple forms needed to be changed, team members needed to update the same piece of information over and over again, adjusting every form manually.

The diversity of tools being used by Phoenix Contact Lean Six Sigma practitioners made starting and following the appropriate steps in an improvement project daunting. "When Green Belts first began, they were overwhelmed by the breadth of available tools," Russo says. "Many practitioners struggled with choosing the correct tools at each phase of the project."[Page Break]

How Quality Companion helped

In response to challenges such as these, Minitab Inc designed Quality Companion to organise and manage all types of quality improvement projects within one application. Quality Companion provides and stores all of the tools and documents related to each project in a single file that's easy to share, review, and archive.

"With Companion, all of our project data is centralised," says Russo. "I can't imagine going back to multiple files and folders to manage my projects."

Phoenix Contact's Lean Six Sigma practitioners had been intimidated by the sheer quantity of tools available in the DMAIC toolkit and how those tools could be applied. With Companion, practitioners use the software's Project Roadmap to organise their projects into detailed phases, along with the associated tools for each step. In addition, on-demand Coaches give the Belts guidance and examples for how to use tools at each phase of the project.

"Ambiguity about how to start and complete a project is diminished," says Russo.

Russo, who mentors Lean Six Sigma belts at all certification levels within the company, says Quality Companion is equally helpful to practitioners completing improvement projects at all levels of complexity.

"Companion puts project management tools at the fingertips of all our practitioners - from Green Belts in training to those at more advanced levels."

Companion also greatly reduces the amount of time teams spend manually copying and pasting project data into various project forms. The software's integrated tool set allows data to be shared throughout the entire project, so when you enter or change a piece of data in one form, it also updates other forms throughout the project.

"We've saved time on redundant data entry and cut down on most of the paperwork it previously took to report the status of our projects," Russo says.

And customising Companion's project forms, tools, Project Roadmap and Coaches is easy. "We've developed our own standardized forms to execute projects," says Quality Manager and Green Belt Peter Muller, "and all the forms link up and communicate with each other when changes are made or data is added."

Russo finds Companion especially helpful when it comes to tracking and monitoring project statuses, as well as presenting results to management and key project stakeholders. "The all-in-one design of Companion makes it simple to see the progress of each project," he says. "It's also easy to create high-quality project presentations directly within the software."[Page Break]


While Phoenix Contact's deployment of Quality Companion is still in its early stages, the software's role in helping to complete several successful projects has already proved extremely beneficial.

"Companion's ease of use, as well as early project successes, has made our conversion to the new software simple," Russo says. "I saw the benefits right away."

One project lead by new Green Belt and Customer Service Manager Amy Gangl eliminated the use of a manual paper filing system in the customer service department.

"We've made our processes paper-free and saved thousands of dollars," Gangl says.

And since beginning the company-wide continuous improvement initiative at their US headquarters, Phoenix Contact estimates that they've saved millions of dollars.

Russo also noticed that Phoenix Contact Lean Six Sigma practitioners have been empowered by Companion's built-in guidance throughout each project phase.

"Quality Companion has enabled more employees to execute projects with confidence," he says.

The increase in project quality and the ability of teams to work through projects more efficiently has been a huge advantage for Phoenix Contact. "Companion has allowed our team to do what matters most," Russo says. "We've been able to quickly and successfully deliver projects with bottom-line improvements for our business."l

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Carly Barry and Eston Martz, Minitab Inc., State College, PA, USA. www.minitab.com