Words of Process Improvement Wisdom
During times of financial stress and heightened market volatility, we often hear these words being used in efforts of reducing overhead. Words such as “Lean, efficient, cost control or reductions, and so on.” When the market pendulum swings back from a bull market, we often see reports of headcount reductions, decreased spending and leaning on suppliers to reduce product prices along with the words being used above. What is often forgot that this notion is a complete culture shift.
It takes time, training and finding the right areas to implement this strategy first. Just like any other initiative that organizations often undertake, sales and marketing to an operational shift, the only way to make this successful is to identify the “right target” and make that your focus. One of my Six Sigma coaches always said, “You only get what you measure. If your measurement system is bad, nothing but bad things will result.” With this thought, organizations can set targets, and monitor cost savings and efficiencies.
Being Lean can translate into very simple terms: be smooth and efficient. During my summer breaks from college, I worked for a small business owner. He was very meticulous on following: number of steps, duration, preventative maintenance, and end result checklist. What were the reasons for these measures? For 20 years, he worked as a coal miner and ran a second business. These were measures he could simply use, record the data at the time of proposal and during the activities and see where the inefficiencies occurred. He took this to heart because he could calculate his allocated to his small business, create a schedule and identify the resources he needed to operate smoothly without incurring a cost that affected is profitability. Most of all, it couldn’t affect his day job as it provided for him and his family. By being smooth and efficient, he was able to work two jobs, spend time with his family and still have an active social life. Most of all, this process all him to pay for two college tuitions, two weddings and retire very early from the coal mine. The lesson: we can all find ways to be more smooth and efficient. We just need to be taught what to look for and what adds value. For my friend, it helped shape the way I think today.
How Lean Philosophies Can Create Change in Warehouse Management
This picture depicts the before and after photos of a warehouse that encountered Lean Awareness Training. The warehouse workers lacked basic inventory management principles and were not measured on direct output of their work. As packages came in, the warehouse staff blindly received items into inventory and were blindly staging these items. After a few days of trying to locate products, the staff became agitated due to the constant amount of rework due to binning and staging of product. By instituting lean principles and continual coaching on best warehouse practices, the warehouse team was able to redesign the warehouse, over 8,000 different SKUs, into a system that allowed any new associate to find products very quickly and easily after 10 minutes of training. The whole redesign process and inventory took three warehouse associates three weeks to complete.
The main fundamental to this project, try to touch the product only three times from receipt to put-away. If a user had to touch it more than three times, then the product was not being effectively managed. Just like my coal miner friend would have said, "keep it smooth and efficient."