Embedding a Culture of Continuous Improvement & Lean Manufacturing Across Pfizer Global Manufacturing - Learn how the pharma giant is enabling site-wide process efficiency. - BioPharm


Embedding a Culture of Continuous Improvement & Lean Manufacturing Across Pfizer Global Manufacturing
Learn how the pharma giant is enabling site-wide process efficiency.

BioPharm International
Volume 22, Issue 8


RFT gives all PGM colleagues, not just a handful of first-line supervisors and operators, tools for boosting process understanding, and developing and implementing strategies for optimizing process capability. Appointing a credible RFT champion at site-level (to date, more than 40 RFT champions have been appointed across PGM's global site network) has proved enormously successful, as did encouraging managers to motivate and inspire operators and other colleagues to use their brains as well as their hands.

As RFT rolled out, all PGM colleagues were given basic Six Sigma knowledge through method 1, or yellow belt, training. Selected candidates with clearly defined projects subsequently received method 2, or green belt, and method 3, or black belt, training. The coaching provided to colleagues during these projects was critically important to success. Because process improvement is impossible without process measurement, new process capability metrics were introduced. As the rollout continued, we continually monitored progress and made adjustments as needed to optimize buy-in and support.

Supported by Six Sigma-based (yellow, green, and black belt) training, colleagues were empowered to present managers with their ideas for improving processes. Site management recognized and applauded the success of colleague-devised RFT strategies, and, as more colleagues took notice, the impact rippled across sites and plants. RFT represented a real and significant departure from the old way of doing things, and this awareness combined with early successes to fuel colleague buy-in and support.


Currently, some 5% of PGM colleagues have received green belt training, and approximately 1% of Pfizer colleagues have received black belt training. Applying RFT principles and Six Sigma techniques, PGM colleagues are completing more than one project per day (in a calendar year, more than 365 projects will be completed). It is also worth noting that 23,000 PGM colleagues have received one-day yellow belt training and, with these enhanced problem-solving skills, are on a monthly basis resolving thousands of issues across PGM.

Yellow belt techniques are routinely applied to standard root cause analysis (RCA) for quality, and environmental health and safety (EH&S) investigations, and PGM colleagues use these skills to improve many other business processes.

As the RFT roll out continued, the results of our optimization efforts drove variability from our core processes, which had previously recorded levels of variability that ranged from 2–3 Sigma, whereas today, they consistently deliver a level of performance between 4 and 5 Sigma. As a result, we are experiencing significantly more consistent process output and fewer recurring problems. Our costs were decreasing while the speed and reliability of our processes were increasing.

As its name implies, continuous improvement is organic and continuously evolving, and PGM's journey had just begun. As a result of RFT, our processes were capable, but were they efficient?


The lessons learned by rolling out RFT were applied to the next phase of continuous improvement by leaning out PGM's manufacturing and manufacturing support functions to achieve optimal process capability and efficiency. The primary lesson of RFT is: If processes cannot be predicted, efficiency cannot be optimized. If Lean is the ultimate goal, colleagues must first accept, understand, support, and use RFT principles before initiating Lean.

In the Six Sigma continuum, efficiency follows capability, and the distinction is critical. Pfizer's approach to Lean has two-steps: apply RFT to achieve process capability, and then apply Lean to achieve process efficiency. This philosophy influenced PGM's decision to stagger the implementation of RFT and Lean by approximately 18 months, giving colleagues the necessary time to adjust to, accept, and incorporate RFT principles before tackling Lean. As with RFT, leadership buy-in and support at the site level was the central driving factor behind the successful introduction, adaptation, and ongoing, daily-level implementation of Lean principles across PGM.

Unless RFT and Lean are very closely linked, opportunities for identifying and minimizing or mitigating systemic organizational challenges optimization can be lost. Process efficiency can be optimized by closely linking the application of Lean principles to the areas for improvement previously identified through RFT. The close linkage of RFT and Lean has yielded significant results across PGM.

Across Pfizer, the application of Lean Principles builds on the foundation of capable processes that result from the activities of RFT. As a result, PGM is seeing enhanced performance in terms of efficiency, cycle time, and reduced inventory. This approach has now been applied to an expanding list of key product supply chains. Improvements of more than 50% have been seen in the lead-time for product supply.

Pfizer designed its Lean Toolbox to enable improved efficiency and better management of complexity. Applied to manufacturing and manufacturing support processes, Lean is focused on eliminating non-value-added activity (waste). Visually depicting the current and future process, value stream mapping, (VSM), is used to identify the opportunities.

Additional tools and tactics that are used to advance Lean goals include standard work plans, spaghetti diagrams, cell design, and pull principles (in which product is produced to service the immediate needs of customer orders, rather than the traditional approach of pushing supply of product to meet long-term forecasts). Lean tools and principles combine to establish a firm foundation for continuous process improvement. The dramatic reduction in Lipitor end-to-end (raw material to main market) lead-time that follows is just one of many examples.

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