Up to now, innovations were primarily intended to create new products and
processes solely by means of natural and engineering sciences.
However, it is becoming clear today that successful innovations will
increasingly require an equal focus on personal interactions.
Baxter Oncology GmbH develops and produces complex intravenous injection compounds. Implementation of state-of-the-art technical processes for products (such as liposomes, sterile powders, lyophilisation products) is carried out automatically in isolators under sterile conditions. These isolators cannot be accessed by humans. Limited intervention is only possible via permanently installed gloves. Often, new technical concepts and processes are required to implement new product ideas.
Today’s business model also requires adapting quickly to changing customer requirements. In the past, major events, market shifts or new political requirements were often used as a “scapegoat” and an impetus for change. Quick actions within the company were often enacted to address the change needed, and typically involved a large-scale mobilisation of the workforce. However, are there better avenues available for designing more efficient and predictable changes which everyone involved can understand and support? Innovation and versatility are key competencies for achieving global success. That is why the implementation of change via means of projects is too tiring for everybody and cannot be sustained.
It is important to understand that today, successful innovation and change must begin with us. With humans. What could make more sense than to actively involve people, from the beginning, in the respective change and solicit their active participation in its design? Change should be devised on-site at the workplace, together with the people affected by the change. Those often heard statements suggesting that people are not willing to change are not accurate when considered in their entirety. The fact is, we humans are very versatile and open to change, for example, when it comes to designing our leisure time options or using electronic media. If we can also be successful in broadening this positive approach to company activities, we will create the basis for a sustainable concept of versatility in business.
The following examples illustrate the way: newly designed processes in production are created using state-of-the-art tools via computer simulation (Figure 1). Not only is the geometry of the individual components simulated in the isolator, but so is the airflow. The next (and most important) step is to involve the employees and work out the details of the computer-generated solutions. To achieve this, the machine concepts are replicated in wood and plastic on a 1:1 scale. Employees on all hierarchical levels, but particularly production employees, carry out each critical work step in detail (Figure 2). Their feedback provides the basis for adjustments in the machine hardware (Figure 3). The work sequences are also planned jointly by management and employees. The required tools and team sizes, which are needed for carrying out individual work tasks, are defined. Process steps are described in detail and the steps for implementation are defined at the end of each workshop.
Using this modular process design, technical ideas are tied to processes right from the beginning, and it is the employees who play a key role. Their involvement, hands-on knowledge, and feedback at the design/simulation stage can help to avoid errors or issues later, thus allowing quality to be built into the machine and process designs right from the start. Figure 4 provides an impression of the optimised machine concept.
This type of innovative, structured procedure has triggered a cultural change over the past years. It moves away from the outdated idea that engineering simply designs and/or buys new machines, and instead advances towards a culture that allows technology design and processes to be developed and defined together with the employees from the beginning. This ultimately makes machines simply a means to an end. People are moving into focus again, with employees on-site playing an integral role in the design.
Yes, first-class results can and do come from highly qualified and motivated employees and are not simply the result of the applied high technology. However, it is important to keep in mind that the development of detailed processes alone may not reach all employees at the respective site who may potentially be involved in carrying out such processes. Consequently, for a successful implementation it is also important to engage and instruct all current and future employees about the newly defined processes. In our case, in cooperation with Visart from Bielefeld, an adaptive learning concept has been developed which covers, condenses and paints a picture of the most important details of the process design. To achieve this, training materials are presented on iPads directly at the workplace for training purposes. Figures 5 to 8 show the process sequence by using an excerpt from the sterile process of changing garments. Along with involving the employees, it is also vital that the illustrated processes make it possible to identify which details are most important. Realistic photographs do not provide an adequate differentiation. The graphical depiction by professional illustrators condenses the information content to focus on what is actually essential for success.
Conclusion. Using participatory approaches for designing the work environment creates a feeling of inclusion, of being “in the thick of things”. At the same time, working on design together results in the acceptance and personal ownership of processes at an early stage, a voluntary willingness to take responsibility, and a feeling of empowerment. Therefore, a cultural change takes place in the company over the medium and long term. Employees on all hierarchical levels become responsible for their processes and actions, resulting in an intense involvement with the work environment. Extensive participation by the employees results in advantages for all stakeholders. Autonomous employees are more satisfied and motivated – as documented by our regular employee surveys. Customers receive tailored solutions in line with their specifications. The quality of products and services is enhanced. In all, this results in a significant competitive advantage.
Dr. Burkhard Wichert
The author is the managing director of Baxter Oncology GmbH and is also responsible for the three contract manufacturing sites for Baxter in the USA and Germany. He is a pharmacist with a doctorate in Pharmaceutical Technology and has also completed an MBA degree. He embarked on a professional career by undertaking a research assignment in the USA. His professional career also includes the development of medicinal products and project management all the way to production and later on to management position.