Apparel Magazine just ran a great article on developing leaner product development and sourcing operations for anyone looking for an easy to understand no-nonsense common sense introduction to going lean. Focussed on correcting the six-lean sins of the product development process in an average organization, the article did a great job of pointing out that if you are wasting time, effort, production, or transportation, you are not lean.
More specifically, a lean organization does the following.
- Optimizes Time Utilization
A lean organization identifies those parts of the cycle that take the most time or that tend to run out of control and reins them in with proper processes and controls. In supply management, if the longest part of the process is identifying suppliers who can meet certain needs, then, even before a product design is finalized, the process to identify suppliers with the requisite technical capabilities and production processes is begun. Then, when the design is finalized and the components need to be sourced, the organization simply needs to select the most appropriate supplier from a small pool.
- Optimizes Effort
As highlighted in the article, a lean process does not include unnecessary milestone meetings, [a] lack of communication between departments that leads to a re-creation of plans, [the] development of too many designs that do not get adopted, or the creation of unneeded samples. The requirements for a project are clearly identified and all efforts are aligned with meeting those requirements.
- Optimizes Production
There are three optimizations here. First of all, the organization avoids producing more units than are needed (in a given period of time). If the known demand is 100, 1000 are not produced in the hope that the need will magically appear. Secondly, the organization does not add features or functions that are not required by, or do not add value to, the end customer. Third, the organization avoids the creation of process silos to insure that one individual or group doesn’t over-engineer a part or value-add service that goes (well) beyond need or cost control requirements.
- Optimizes Transportation
This applies to all steps in product design, development, and distribution — not just the final distribution process. For example, sending partial products back and forth needlessly in the design and development process due to poor process design is waste. In production, if raw materials are transported from Africa to South America for refinement and then shipped to China for component production and the components are then shipped to the US for final assembly, that’s just inefficient, especially if the final products are then sold in Europe. That’s losing sight of the supply management forest while focussing on the old cost trees.
Lean is not a mystical, magical, chimera. It’s the systematic elimination of waste by taking a holistic view.