Autonomous Work Groups
The Autonomous Work Group concept was documented in Volvo in Sweden and other companies. In the 1990's we successfully implemented the concept into all areas of Production and Transport of Peat in Bord Na Mona and the machinery fleet in Coillte the state Forestry company.

In Bord Na Mona the reduction in cost enabled the company to survive. The groups were made up of a supervisor, craftsman, and general operatives. They took responsibility for production of peat within a specific area. That involved machinery, running costs and seasonal workers when required.

Like any Lean initiative the team focused on wastage breaking the operation into Milling, Turning (Drying) and Harvesting the Peat. The peat has to dry which is weather dependant and cannot be speeded up. The teams became totally flexible working long hours when it was possible to do so and doing routine maintenance when the weather was against them. The use of seasonal labour was focused on the time that they were needed only and consumables costs were reduced enormously. During the off-season the team worked as a multi skilled unit doing all the major overhauls (causing loss of work for the craftsmen attached to particular works).

In Coillte the machinery fleet is scattered throughout the country and the management team had lost confidence in the machine operators ability to meet deadlines and deliver the cubic metres of timber at an acceptable cost. Once we made the operators responsible for the total cost, they began to tender for business and work long hours to meet time deadlines for mills or boats. They began to handle routine maintenance and create relationship with local skilled fitters rather than wait a couple of days for the internal craftsman to arrive to fix a problem.

In both cases the initiatives reduced wastage and cost, increased flexibility, and changed the relationship between the company the workforce. The workforce had a desire to up skill and take responsibility for the entire task rather than remain stuck in a silo!