Improved Time-to-Market through broad Lean introduction into the organization

Published on
March 22, 2024
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo is editor at the Lean Global Network and Planet Lean
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After a positive experience in manufacturing, this Colombian company brought Lean to the rest of the organization. The goal? To become a reliable partner for its customers in national and international markets. In this case study, the company takes us through its journey.

SI3 is an industrial group specialized in designing production processes using advanced quality planning methodologies from the automotive sector. Our companies - SI Plásticos (plastic injection molding), SI Ensambles(foam, seats and assembly of USB chargers) and Colauto (metal parts and tool manufacturing) - stand out from their competitors through technology, competitiveness and quality. This while creating value for customers with comprehensive solutions for the mass production of parts and components. The emphasis is on adaptability and versatility.

Our True North is to "turn projects into reality with high efficiency and quality in various technologies." To achieve this, we embarked on a Lean- journey a few years ago. This move followed a request from shareholders and began with a focus on our manufacturing operations. We wanted to make our businesses efficient, with streamlined production processes, top quality and well-organized factories. Initially, we focused on applying a few Lean-tools in our manufacturing operations.

We quickly saw the benefits Lean could bring to our organization, both in process indicators and business profitability. This led us to consider how we could continue on the Lean path. At the Lean Summit in Colombia in 2022, we were inspired to apply Lean Thinking beyond the factories and explore its potential to improve the overall business. Then a business problem was identified to move forward with the introduction of Lean, which led to a change in mindset: "Lean is not just a tool in the factory; it is how we think and focus on business problems and customer needs."

But how do we translate this strategy into concrete actions?

With the intention of bringing Lean to other parts of the business, we clearly defined our goal and began identifying and studying our business problems during workshops with Lean Institute Colombia.


At first we thought we knew what the problem was that needed to be solved, but we had no idea and we jumped straight to possible solutions. What we did know was that there was an underlying situation that was causing problems for the company. We focused on the how, but not the what. That's why understanding the problem - and falling in love with that problem definition process - was so important to us.

Once we had clearly defined our problem - we needed to broaden our customer base and acquire new customers from new sectors to grow our margins - we could finally identify the gaps and prepare a company-wide A3, which we used to determine four areas on which we would focus our action plan (our drivers):

  • In terms of the quotation process, we needed to achieve better turnaround times to compete nationally and globally.
  • Financially, we had to improve the contribution of each project and become more efficient with costs and expenses.

In sales, we needed to increase our conversion rate for the offers we presented to our customers, with a focus on expanding our customer network and improving our information flow to become better at making decisions.

  • Implementing our strategy to align goals both vertically and across the organization.


Commercially, a primary conversion goal was set, essentially beginning by separating the offer from the sale and establishing the sales team's goals to close deals. The team began to understand the need to achieve these goals, including the number of weekly visits, resources, technology tools, etc.

These definitions led to the quick closing of deals that were pending. As part of the whole proposal and conversion plan, people were moved from the back office and execution to the front office, which was weak and eager to get started and better understand customer needs.

The favorable impact of this experiment within the organization prompted the management team to reflect to continue making changes and to align strategy with a transformation in the culture.

From a financial perspective, the goal was to implement a comprehensive strategy for consolidating numbers through a robust system. The goal was to begin to explain, use, demonstrate and disseminate this system to leaders and teams, allowing them to make decisions with agility and certainty. We were not only looking to increase sales, but also to reduce gaps through improved cost, efficiency and other actions that each process could take on a daily and very short-term basis.

Regarding month-end financial closings, the intention was to integrate financial analysis to reduce execution times, reprocessing and inefficiencies in this activity. We wanted to provide relevant information to management early, to facilitate solid decision-making.

In the quotation process, we realized we needed fast and competitively priced quotations to get new customers without neglecting current ones. This work plan addressed the entire quotation flow, analyzed the current situation through a Value Stream Map (VSM) to identify where each task took place, the wait times involved, and the waste and actual turnaround time of the process. This affected Time-to-Market, which we needed to reduce.

Thus, these cross-functional actions quickly led us to results. Looking at the human side of things was also crucial as we sought a collaborative approach to pursuing our strategy. Not everyone in the company was clear about what the strategy was, what our business goals were, and what tools were putting away to pave our way for improvement and people engagement.

What experiments were conducted to close these gaps?

According to the defined work fronts, it was crucial in the sales department to refine data processing through digital artifacts that would provide information for tracking quote requests, customer evolution and real-time status of their progress.

To achieve this, a funnel-shaped dashboard was designed for daily management and detecting blockages in the flow of the bidding process.

At the same time, we carried out an evaluation of the distribution of people, based on their functions, between front office, execution and back office, which led - as mentioned above -to a new organization of certain positions with high technical acumen in order to strengthen the sales teams and serve both new and existing customers. In this way, we managed to double the number of quotations delivered, improve their turnaround time and increase our offer on the international market and to new segments on the national market.

As part of this re-evaluation, we also tasked a number of people to conduct an analysis of the application of A3 Thinking as a problem-solving tool, with the doe lom to identify the root cause of problems and launch experiments that would help us close the gaps we were experiencing in lead conversion.

Another area of concern we identified was the flow of quotations, which was correctly managed by the technical area and other actors - such as Sales, Design, Procurement, Finance, etc. - but experienced difficulties in providing quotes in a timely manner, according to customer expectations (we made solid proposals, but they were often late).

To address this, we deployed Value Stream Mapping to analyze the flow end-to-end and improve the lead time of the process by increasing our agility without sacrificing the quality of our offers.

This analysis highlighted long delays (about 90% of process time) and a very low ratio of value-added activities (10%). This told us that we needed to deploy countermeasures and create an action plan to improve our service levels. With the improvement proposed by our future VSM, we achieved several results. The most important was the reduction of the quotation lead time from 16.4 to 6 days, bringing SI3 to the same and sometimes higher levels than its competitors.

But perhaps the greatest effecte and experiment was to establish a collaborative work cell aimed at eliminating delays, integrating the sales territory and its tracking artifacts, and making quick and timely decisions to achieve the desired response level. This involved daily management and categorizing offers into three types: simple (experience is available), normal (performed according to technical knowledge) and complex (with more advanced steps).

In addition, a Value Stream Manager was assigned to the quotation value stream with very positive results (as an ongoing cross-functional experiment, subject to necessary adjustments). The focus was on quoting and sales, along with the link to manufacturing processes to ensure a link all the way to customer delivery.

The third work front was Finance and looking at the contribution of current and converted projects and how to create awareness within the company of the financial situation through clear, understandable numbers. This included providing information, with the support of management, that enabled decisions on plant costs and expenses that could have a tangible impact on the companies results.

To achieve these objectives, a Power BI tool was developed for validation, consolidation and real-time implementation of execution reports to leaders and decision makers. The focus was on short-term visibility, with the idea of presenting a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), led by finance, and validated and complemented by the needs of each company in the group. The goal was to achieve a tracking standard by which they could adjust the performance of each leader and their teams to address the costs and expenses they generated in doing the work.

In addition, we conducted another VSM exercise with the accounting and finance teams in an effort to reduce the turnaround time of the month-end process and achieve greater agility in the accounting release of month-end closings.

Finally, an action that includes all the others is the implementation of our strategy towards staff development through management actions led by the Organization Development Department. We had a significant problem: the current strategy was jointly built, but it was not clear to everyone. Not everyone understood what the ultimate goal of the company was. We addressed this through group sessions such as Building the Strategy Together. We identified the spaces that served to engage people in that purpose. Through a training plan, we began to penetrate the different levels of the organization.

The next step was to influence all teams and encourage them to think about the problems in their daily processes and how to contribute to the solution to implement significant improvements, substantial change or deeper solutions with root cause analysis (in the process we opened 92 A3s). These efforts were aligned with the shared common strategy.

That's what led to the Lean mentality that exists in the organization today, and to our people's heightened awareness of the importance of continuous improvement. We could see that it's all about everyone asking themselves, "What problems can I solve?" to really contribute to the fulfillment of the business strategy.

In conclusion, the greatest success has been breaking down silos and achieving cross-functional teamwork with weekly short-interval follow-ups on each defined driver. This was complemented by group meetings to jointly present progress on each front, facilitating chaining and alignment of progress in each of the ongoing strategic pillars.

The Results

We achieved benefits on all fronts. We can highlight the following:

  • At the business level: We clearly identified the purpose and associated problems, which allowed us to set strategic goals in different areas of the business with a common purpose.
  • Indicators: We defined indicators that measure reality and stopped having vanity metrics, especially in the offer flow, which had excellent service tables and an excellent process in theory, but failed to win business in expected volumes.
  • Experimental Work: We implemented experimental work through shared quote cells or platforms, where we reduced response times, achieved quick agreements, reduced email volume and reduced time-to-market for quotes by 65%. The cross-functional team was empowered with a strategic focus, where each member had a clear direction and worked accordingly with daily monitoring.
  • Financial: Tools were provided to more easily convey financial information and develop team capabilities by sharing knowledge for timely and impactful decision making, allowing tracking of each company's management to appreciate the impact of decisions on contribution.
  • Accounting: In the area of accounting, there was a 40% reduction in the time to make information available in monthly closings (PLT reduction) in a first phase, with the implementation of more than 30 improvement actions and an ideal Value Stream Map (VSM) aimed at an overall PLT improvement of 55%.
  • Commercial area: Relevant and clear information in the commercial area (optimized information flow) to better understand our customers and their needs and refine the results of prospects presented, improving conversion.
  • Staff Balance: Balancing the necessary personnel to strengthen the commercial area without increasing the number of employees, through the analysis of employees assigned to the front office, execution and back office. This allowed the identification of internal technical competencies in customer service (technical contact with the customer to understand their real needs) and their technical commercial offers.
  • Strategy: We implemented a broad and inclusive strategy, generated ideas to initially reach everyone's True North, and translated those ideas into problems to solve using A3 thinking, with direct team participation in solving them and closing the A3s.
  • Management level: At the management level, an "article club," which could perhaps become a "book club," was established where reflections were made every eight days on articles focused on creating value for customers, developing teams and applying concepts. Efforts are now underway to find value-added value streams for customers and reinforce behaviors through actions for process leaders.

Some Reflections on the Journey

We are happy with what we have already accomplished, even though we are only at the beginning of our journey and know that we must endure every challenge.

We developed the capabilities of our people, promoted discipline in achieving our goals, encouraged them to consistently go the extra mile, especially in terms of numbers.

Teams came together around the new ways of working. The process of creating them was highly participatory and inclusive, with joint solution construction and direct involvement of different organizational levels. The organization now naturally discusses problems, and this mindset permeated the operational level.

Commitment was achieved without imposition, through consensus and persuasion, ensuring that the improvements made will be sustained over time. For example, we introduced a simple but very impactful initiative, where every time the company gets a new customer through a submitted quotation, a bell is rung. In this way, the members of the quotation cell are motivated, feel that their teamwork contributes directly to the business results. It is worth noting that the bell is ringing more and more often, and there is room for further improvement.

Developing a Lean mindset has become an essential need within the teams, and they are eager to move forward and make further improvements to the processes. The teams talk in terms of indicators all the time and maintain the work structure we designed.

Looking to the future, we plan to review the work of various areas to strengthen our decision-making and continue to engage everyone in achieving good business results.

We plan to maintain and expand our daily management efforts until they become routine, challenge ourselves to achieve our goals year after year and support various processes. We will also continue to support the implementation of our strategy to engage all individuals working at Si3, strengthen the tools implemented, especially A3 Thinking.

A key challenge we will face is leadership - the core of the Lean Transformation Framework (LTF) we follow - as we work hard to help them understand that their role is to allow people to experiment, make mistakes and learn, not to provide solutions. We are also working to define our foundational thinking (the floor of the LTF house), which we want to infuse into the DNA of the organization.

The big question for the future is: how can we ensure that all these changes transcend individuals and persist in the organization?


The Si3 team and

Héctor Rincón, Project Manager at the Lean Institute Colombia

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