Teaming Together: Students develop business improvement initiative at Adidas

By: Austin Arceo-Negrich, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
May 7, 2012

As Indiana State University students cruised Interstate 70 on Friday afternoons from Terre Haute to Indianapolis, they were looking forward to reaching their destination.

Only the trek to the capital city wasn't for recreation; it was time to go to work.

Eight ISU students worked with two shifts of distribution employees at the adidas Sports Licensed Division facility on the east side of Indianapolis to develop a communication process by which the workers could suggest improvements to their job. The students participated in the project as part of an operations management course taught in the Scott College of Business, where they chose to work with adidas over several other projects in the course.

"It seemed like a bigger company," said Derek Keusch, a junior business administration major from Jasper. "There were more opportunities."

The students worked with the athletic apparel company to implement a business improvement process based on the C4 methodology, which stands for concern, cause, counter-measure and confirm, said Ken Jones, senior lecturer of operations management. He taught the students about aspects of the methodology as they worked with adidas to implement the business improvement process.

Jones gave an example of how an employee may have an idea how to improve his or her job, but a company might not have a formal process to make those suggestions. The C4 methodology helps to create that procedure.

"This process forces a certain level of structure and formality to it," Jones said. "It's really flexible so that it's very easy for a plant floor associate to submit those ideas, but things still get worked in a structured way."

It was the first time that several of the students encountered the operations of an existing company, said Joe Cripe, vice president of operations at adidas. The students approached the project with an objective perspective regarding the work that employees do, which allowed them to do their work in a more meaningful manner, he said.

"It was a great experience, overall," Cripe said. "We'd consider having them back for future projects."

The students created a publicly displayed board where suggestions can be made. They remain on the board, though they can be moved from one step in the process to another as they are addressed by management, who along with all the other employees in the company should review such a board daily to ensure that any suggested improvements are addressed properly, said Blake Byers, a junior business administration major from Bloomfield.

He compared the process to a suggestion box, except that when suggestions are made privately, there's no definite process to how they may be reviewed, he said.

"You don't know who's really going in there to get the card or anything," Byers added. "This stays on the board in front of everyone that's on the floor, so they have a better idea of what's going on, stuff like that. It keeps them involved more."

Though the students attend class on ISU's campus, they committed to working with adidas employees in person. Each Friday starting in March, the two groups of students packed into their cars and ventured east to Indianapolis, where they discussed the initiative with associates and managers in the company.

The students also spent time learning about the job that the inbound and outbound workers do, so that they could have a better understanding of how the initiative would influence their jobs.

Yet the project did not go smoothly. Partway through the project, one of the two student teams was informed that the adidas employee who was the liaison with them and the organization was no longer with the company. The students, however, continued working on the project.

"We basically had an idea of what we needed to do , and we went ahead and did that," said Tom O'Connor, a junior business administration major from New Lenox, Ill. "It gave us a lot of real-life experience, rather than have a teacher tell us what we need to do."

Several different approaches to efficiency improvement exist, though company officials were pleased with the efforts of the ISU students, Cripe said.

"The beauty of this particular C4 model is that it was straightforward and it was quick to implement," Cripe said. "It was easy for our associates to work with the ISU students to identify and solve problems, and because of that, I think we have a better chance of sustaining this process than anything we've tried before."

The students also helped create a database to track suggested improvements to be made, as well as keep records of changes that are suggested, but cannot be implemented for business reasons, such as cost.

The students concluded the semester-long endeavor with a presentation that reviewed their work, the business improvement process they used to create the new C4 efforts, as well as advice on how to continue the initiative in the future.

"I believe these adidas projects continue to demonstrate the value Indiana State business students can deliver to organizations, not just in the Wabash Valley, but throughout Indiana," Jones said. "As a result of the students' efforts and successful outcomes, I'm confident we will have the opportunity to work with adidas in the very near future. They've created the path for future students interested in operations and supply chain management to follow."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Red-Cross/i-GnLLN6W/0/L/Adidas-3-L.jpg (Submitted photo)Indiana State University students tour the adidas facility in Indianapolis. Two groups of ISU students worked with adidas employees to implement a communication process for continuous improvement based on the C4 methodology.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Red-Cross/i-8vh8hct/0/L/Adidas-1-L.jpg (Submitted photo)ISU students meeting with employees at the adidas facility in Indianapolis.

Contact: Ken Jones, senior lecturer, operations management, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 317-413-6753 or kenneth.jones@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

Eight students worked with two shifts of distribution employees at the adidas Sports Licensed Division facility on the east side of Indianapolis to develop a communication process by which the workers could suggest improvements to their job.

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