About the project

The ERIP project was match funded by the INTERREG IVB North Sea Region Programme and had nine original participating project partners from across Europe:

The central goal of ERIP was to create a transnational network of six Innovative Productivity Centres (IPCs) capable of designing, testing and refining a lean change management methodology adapted for use in SMEs across Europe. IPCs were established in the UK, Flanders, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Germany and were made up of industry SMEs and exemplars, regional government support agencies, centres for excellence and academic institutions.

The ERIP project was established and funded to help European SMEs gain the knowledge and support needed to become leaner, more innovative and more flexible. This in turn, would enable them to better survive and compete globally with the increasingly dominant and sophisticated manufacturers of low cost economies.

At the start of the project in January 2008, the regional development agency for the North East of England, One North East was the Lead Beneficiary. However, due to a change in the political landscape in the UK, the development agency withdrew from the ERIP project in 2011 and Newcastle University Business School became the new Lead Beneficiary of the project.

The project activity, results and expected outputs were split into 7 interdependent work packages.

Work package 1 covered overall project management, co-ordination and reporting, and was led by the Lead Beneficiary.

Work package 2 covered the identification and recruitment of participants for each of the six IPCs. Each IPC had at least one exemplar company: an organisation that was advanced in their understanding and application of lean and agile techniques. Each IPC also had a designated IPC delivery partner, responsible for implementing the ERIP methodology in each tester SME. A major project objective was to implement the ERIP methodology in 24 SMEs, with 4 per region.

Work package 3 formalised the relationships developed in the second work package and brought each regional network together to create a transnational network capable of designing, testing and refining a transnational lean change methodology for SME usage. For more information on the structure, transnational nature, business plan and scheduled activity of the IPCs, please see the work package 3 Report.

Work package 4 defined the methodology by breaking it into stages and points for measuring KPIs. The lead partner for this work package was Ghent University. The ERIP methodology was based on the North East Productivity Alliance (NEPA) methodology developed in the North East of England.[1] A description of the ERIP methodology (stages and KPI measurements) can be found later in this document. Work package 4, 5 and 6 are linked as the refinement of the methodology occurred after testing took place and an understanding of what was to be evaluated was agreed.

Work package 5 covered the testing phase of this methodology within all SMEs across the transnational IPC network. A software tool was created by the work package lead partner, Swerea IVF AB. This tool enabled each IPC delivery partner to record the progress they were making testing the methodology (stages S1 to S9) in each of their SMEs. IPC delivery partners could enter KPI measures taken at the start of the testing process, during testing and at the end point (M1 to M4). Therefore, productivity improvements for each tester SME were captured in the testing tool and could be used in the evaluation of the lean change methodology for SME usage.

Work package 6 evaluated the ERIP methodology defined in work package 4 and tested in work package 5. The lead partner of this work package was Newcastle University Business School. The Business School provided guidance on information to collect and data to capture by providing evaluation templates. It was the responsibility of each IPC delivery partner to complete the templates and assess the impact of testing in each SME. Alongside the templates, each IPC delivery partner produced implementation reports for each tester SME. A final overall project evaluation report was written by Newcastle University Business School. This collated the findings of each IPC and made comparisons at a country and transnational level, assessing the impact of the ERIP methodology across the North Sea Region Programme and Norway.

Work package 7 covered all communication activity for the project. On an ongoing basis, partners have communicated the achievements of ERIP to a wide audience of stakeholders. Partners have produced presentations for conferences, written articles for mainstream press, appeared on TV, written academic papers for journals and disseminated results to interested policy makers and economic support agencies across Europe.

Transnational working method

In order for the partnership to work at a transnational level, a secure internal project communication tool was acquired by the lead partner. All IPC participants were invited to become members. This communication tool (the knowledge exchange or KX area) was used over the lifetime of the project, mainly by partners: to share and store files, send and receive group messages, announce project events and news, and maintain a project contacts database.

back to top

Results summarised

It was recognised at the outset of the project that evaluating the impact of applying the methodology within SMEs would be limited by the 1 year implementation testing timeframe. A more meaningful assessment would cover a longer time trajectory, especially in terms of assessing the degree to which lean had become embedded within an organisation. It was also recognised that collecting a set of comparable measures was paramount to assessing impact.

Some of the strongest conclusions reached by the ERIP project included the following:

  • All partners agreed, at the Groningen Steering Group meeting, in September 2011, that Stage 1 of the methodology was critical for ensuring a successful application. The Dutch partner in particular, noted that having some previous experience working with a selected SME, positively increased their chances of being recruited to participate in the project and also in terms of them remaining engaged right through to the project end date.
  • The Dutch partner also felt that ensuring all SME change agents (1 to 2 per SME) attended the first showcase led by a lean consultant was critical. By inspiring them all together and setting up a team dynamic, they were more likely to be committed to attend each showcase in each SME, even where the sector was irrelevant to their day job. This is an important training step for change agents and how the ERIP methodology ‘teaches’ and ‘imbeds’ lean in the culture of an organisation.
  • All partners also agreed that they needed buy-in from senior management in an SME to make the testing process successful. Based on all partners’ experiences, the methodology was refined to add an additional explicit step: “establishing the management support structure”
  • Size really matters. In very small SMEs, such as those recruited in the UK, freeing up time and resources to take part in ERIP became too difficult. This was compounded by the worsening economic environment the micro-SMEs found themselves operating in over the project lifetime (2008 to 2011). Therefore, an additional anecdotal finding of ERIP is that company size is very important, with micro-SMEs (those with less than 50 employees) being more likely to drop out as the testing process is implemented.

back to top

Refinements to the methodology

In the initial application, the ERIP methodology expected IPC delivery partners to measure 13 KPIs within each SME. The partnership cut the KPIs to be measured down to 6. Data collection proved more difficult for delivery partners than what was anticipated. This was again a time/resource issue for participant SMEs. It was felt that 6 KPI would be a more reasonable amount of data to collect and analyse. The most utilised were included in the final 6.

back to top

The project’s greatest achievement

  • The creation of a transnational network of Innovative Productivity Centres (IPCs) that defined and tested a methodology for SMEs across the North Sea Region Programme and in Norway. Strong relationships have been built between regional development agencies, SMEs, exemplars and higher education institutions within regional IPCs and also between partners at a transnational level. There have been extensive examples of successful transnational collaboration that resulted directly from the ERIP project. This has included joint/ team presentations at numerous international conferences, joint or collaborative academic papers published in well respected journals, articles in mainstream press outlets and even TV appearances reaching vast audiences.
  • The establishment of a joint Masters in Operations Management between Newcastle University Business School and Groningen University. Groningen University is the main academic participant of the Dutch IPC. This sees the fulfilment of a major goal set out at the project application stage to embed the knowledge outcomes of the project into Higher Education Institutions.
  • The establishment in Flanders of a spin off company from Ghent University, Veltion. The company was created as a direct result of ERIP and is run by project participants. The company is now applying the ERIP methodology on a consultancy basis throughout Belgium. Veltion has enhanced the implementation of the methodology by developing a web-based monitoring tool to monitor and track SMEs as they implement lean. This tool is based on the PDCA-cycle and helps SMEs with improvements in a structured manner. The company believes the tool improves the application of the ERIP methodology in tester SMEs. The establishment of a spin off company and development of a web-based tool, provide very practical examples of how ERIP outcomes will continue to benefit Belgium SMEs long after the project deadline.
  • The influence it has had on regional policy in both mid-Norway and Flanders.

[1]The NEPA methodology, known as Narrow and Deep, was a highly structured method used to train Change Agents and embed knowledge within a company. The NEPA methodology was transferred into the IPC transnational network through a series of showcases run by MAS North East consultants (the NEPA engineers during the NEPA project). It is worth noting that the NEPA methodology used as the basis of ERIP had already been amended slightly by the MAS North East consultants to take a more flexible approach, and was generally termed a Kaizen Blitz, which allows the trainers to tailor the programme to the individual needs of a business and its staff.

back to top