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Warehouse Operations

How "Lean" is your Lean Logistics Program?

Alex Stark | July 09, 2015

Lean logistics quality improvement programs have driven billions of dollars’ worth of value across corporate supply chains. But, if you’re not careful, these programs can become weighed down with bureaucracy --meetings, paperwork, reporting and budgets -- adding time and cost to your quality improvement efforts.

Lean logistics project focusWe write about it in our recent Viewpoint paper: "How Lean is Lean?"

At KANE, we have made a corporate commitment to continuous improvement using Lean Six Sigma methodologies. But our program has been fine tuned to be highly practical and easy to implement. It’s all in the implementation. 

Here are some ways in which the management of Lean programs can get in the way.

Bloated bureaucracy

Meetings, Lean charters, complicated reporting requirements… These and other administrative trappings can make continuous improvement more of a homework assignment than an opportunity to make things better. As a result, someone with a good idea may be reluctant to put it forward.

Unnecessary Lean Logistics Projects

As corporate dollars are allocated to Lean programs, the pressure mounts to show an ROI. Consequently, tactical assignments that could be handled with a meeting or a few phone calls get put forward as formal Lean logistics projects in order to justify a budget spend.

Poor Training

Lean training should be practical and meaningful for all levels, including the people who do the work. Be careful of taking an overly academic approach. Leave the theories and complicated models to the program managers. Don't overemphasize the engineering side, the analysis tools, at the expense of the cultural side – facilitation, team problem solving, and accountability. In the words of management guru Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Unsustainable programs

Where many companies fail with Lean programs is sustaining them and continuing to drive ROI after the big-value ideas peter out. The core tool used to drive Six Sigma projects is DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control). But companies too often ignore the control piece – the heart of continuous improvement. As Shigeo Shingo, Toyota production system expert, said “It’s only the last turn of the bolt that tightens it – the rest is just movement.”

Lean logistics is, first and foremost, about culture change

The Lean movement began as a grass roots effort to eliminate waste and improve quality. Simple, unpretentious and important.

To continue realizing the enormous benefits that Lean logistics efforts have delivered to supply chains, we need to keep Lean program implementation simple, with a focus on the people, the culture,
and getting the work done.