So what would you say you do here?

Or rather more what what I say at Alstom: “Can you explain the processes that go on in your department?” This past week has seen me in and out of meetings with all of the heads of the various departments at the Santa Perpetua facility. In each meeting I really have been trying to arrive with a blank slate and understand what exactly goes on within each department, with departments ranging from sales to engineering to project management. 
In addition to understanding what exactly goes on in each department, I have been questioning the department heads as to what they see as the key problems or areas of inefficiencies in each of their respective departments. I have been touring the factory and forming my own opinions, and I find it greatly helpful to see how my opinions (as someone who has only ever sat on trains instead of built them…) matched up with theirs. For the most part, the problems they brought to my attention were related to software or communication between departments/dependencies on processes that don’t work well.

It all seems to be a game of propagation. A process in purchases may be a few days delayed, which then causes parts to not be in the warehouse and then has those same parts be late or missing to the assembly line, and if there is one thing you want to avoid at a factory it would be stopping the production line.

This week I have been interviewing the direct reports to all of the managers that i spoke with last week. My thought process for this is that the direct reports, while still more in a management role, deal with the specifics of managing operational procedures and the plant more on a day to day basis. From the few meetings I’ve had with the various department direct reports, it seems that my efforts are not wasted along this path. Unsurprisingly in the second round of interviews, which were more akin to focus groups as opposed to a traditional meetings, the interviewees were able to give me much more specific feedback regarding the inefficiencies they saw, particularly with the fragmented software systems that the company has in place.

I have three more days of these more focused meetings, after which I move into an analysis phase. What are the main (top 3–5) problems being faced from an efficiency standpoint in each department? Are any of these issues faced by multiple departments simultaneously? How do these bottlenecks and roadblocks link in with a higher-level, more general picture of things that can be bettered at the plant as a whole? These questions remain to be answered, but are becoming clearer with each passing day.

Monday saw me with a full day of traveling to and from Madrid. After a 6am flight, I spent the day at the corporate headquarters of Alstom in Madrid. During the morning I was focused on working with the director of operational support and continuous improvement, who helped me understand some more of the company-wide logistic problems, and how these problems’ effects showed themselves in the financials of the company. Very helpful and informative. This carried into a one-on-one . meeting between the President of Alstom Spain and myself. We discussed the issues that I have been able to identify and looked at key avenues down which we could proceed with regards to the digitalization and innovation initiatives that I will design for the plant.

I had a chance to then speak about the work I had done and the work I will be doing to the executive leadership of the company. The response was good and everyone was excited at the prospect of being able to transform Alstom into a leader in innovation in rail and transportation industry. 
Following a taxi ride and a flight and another taxi ride, I was back in Barcelona and hit the hay. The rest of the week should hold more great insights and experiences! Am looking forward to it all.