Category Archives: Lean

Demand Control: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Redefinition and … Requisition Everything!

Part of good cost avoidance in Procurement is good demand management — reducing the consumption, and expenditure, on MRO, T&E, one-time buys for events, etc. We’ve covered the classic techniques in the past, which include:

Reduce: which can be accomplished by accurately predicting needs (and reducing waste) based on past use and current trends (and not maintaining volume levels on toner cartridges for a printer line being phased out)

Reuse: which can take the form of repurposing old equipment (as old developer workstations are probably just as powerful as the business user desktops used in the rest of the organization) or simply collecting unused/discarded collateral at an event and using it again next time

Recycle: where MRO inventory can be replenished by breaking down equipment (like workstations, production lines, etc.) that go out of service and harvesting still working parts that can be used in other equipment

Redefinition: where it’s not a need for more paper, but a need for second / bigger monitors so that people don’t need to print invoices / documents still submitted as (scans of) handwritten documents that can’t be OCR’d or that aren’t in a format the OCR recognizes or for tablets that allow executives to access their reports on the go

but a new type of demand management is popping up in the Procurement world, and it’s called:

Requisition Everything: where you have to literally submit a requisition to the procurement system so that all demand, and consumption, is tracked (and you can be visually guilted to control demand or utilization if you are consuming significantly more of a resource than your peer).

Now, this probably sounds very onerous to you and not worth it, but it all comes down to the implementation and user experience. At Coupa inspire, one company described an innovative method that they used to track and control demand on the factory floor (where workers would forget where they put their gloves, or realize they left them in the lunch room, and just go to the closest supply room or where workers would store extra tools or parts at their desks, just in case, leading to low stock signals and unnecessary ordering). They installed vending machines and when a worker needed something, they needed to go to the machine and punch in their id and slot number. Nothing was restricted (and no limits were placed), but every “requisition” was sent to the central Procurement system which not only updated MRO inventory but also tracked who used what, and allowed Procurement, and departments, to understand usage patterns better. This simple process reduced demand as it instilled the notion of cost consciousness and responsibility in the workers (who knew that their usage patterns could be analyzed and if they consumed considerably more than their peers, it would show), and didn’t really add any time or complexity to the process (as all the workers had to do was punch a few buttons) — especially since this process insured that the workers always knew where the stock was (which wouldn’t happen if it was moved around on the shelves).

Moreover, this technique is not limited to what fits in a vending machine — one could also use cheap RFID tags for larger items (of sufficient value) that would automatically be requisitioned when the tag left the store room (and be assigned to the right person using the employee record obtained from the entry control system when the person swipes their key card).

And, with micro-budgeting, it can be used to insure departments don’t go over their allotted new-hire budget unnoticed. New hire equipment can be kept in the secure storeroom, automatically tracked when retrieved, and automated re-orders made if stock gets too low. Plus, reusable equipment can be returned on employee departure, residual amortization amounts credited back to the micro-budget, and employees / departments who opt to use recycled equipment can be charged a deep discount against their micro-budget (and, more importantly, rewarded at annual recognition events as reuse stats can be tracked).

Now that almost everything can be automated, it might just be the time for Requisition Everything as the new method of employee-based demand management and cost control. Thoughts?

Want Lean Success? Get Lean With Your Lean!

Inbound Logistics recently published a short article on How to Deploy a Successful Improvement Program that chronicled the advice of APL Logistics’, who saved 30M through continuous improvement initiatives, foremast Lean/Six Sigma/JDI professional that had some really good advice.

To summarize, the article outlined a five-step method for deploying a successful improvement program.

  1. Choose One Quality Discipline and Focus On It
  2. Choose And Deploy Your Preferred Training Model
  3. Select the Right Members For Your Project Teams
  4. Choose the Right First Projects
  5. Continuously Improve Your Odds of Program Success

Two of these tips in particularly are especially poignant. In particular, tip #1 and tip #4. The secret to success is focus, focus, focus. Don’t try to adopt too many initiatives at once and don’t try to take on too many projects at once. Just like too many cooks spoil the broth, too many initiatives spoil the effort.

Lean projects, like any other type of improvement project, take effort to accomplish, and there is only so much effort that can be applied to any project. Thus, undertaking multiple types of improvement initiatives splits the effort that can be applied to each, and reduces the chances of success.

Similarly, undertaking multiple projects simultaneously reduces the effort that can be applied to each project, and extends the amount of time required to complete it. If a project takes too long, the chances of it being cancelled before it is completed increase, and, thus, the chances of failure.

When a new effort is undertaken, success often depends on a quick win, and a quick win depends on selecting a project that can be completed in the effort available — and focussing all of the effort available to make it a success. This means that the last thing you should do is start a second effort half-way through the first in an attempt to duplicate a success you do not yet have. Get one success, then start another project. Get another success, start a third project. Once you have a pattern of success under your belt, you’ll get more support (in the way of effort available) and then you can start multiple projects. Until then, get lean with your lean initiative.

Leaders vs. Laggards in Lean

Earlier this year, SC Digest published a comment from Mike Loughrin, CEO of Transformance Advisors, on Designing a Lean Transformation Program that not only covered four key indicators of success in a lean transformation, but also covered the differences between leaders and laggards that deserve a second look.

According to Mike, the four key indicators of success are:

  • Methodology
    Lean is the systematic elimination of waste by way of the five principles of value specification, value stream identification, flow creation, leverage of pull, and the continual strive for perfection.
  • Measurement
    While lean is the top priority, measurement is second as it is necessary to determine the status of the transformation.
  • Community
    Lean succeeds when best practices are shared and people collectively improve upon them.
  • Coaching
    Lean succeeds when mentors coach novices so that they can grow into future mentors.

So how do you distinguish leaders from laggards? According to Mike:

Indicator Leaders Laggards
Methodology Very systematic in the approach to lean. Adopt a couple of techniques from the lean tool box and apply these hammers to every problem whether or not it mimics a nail.
Measurement Assess all of their value streams and focus attention on those areas that need improvement the most, getting to the root causes of the issues. Focus on the symptoms in an effort to identify quick fixes that may or may not address the root causes.
Community Leaders take an active part in the lean community and are very visible at educational and networking events. Laggards don’t have the time, or money, for attending lean educational and networking events.
Coaching Leaders understand that techniques from the lean tool box are systematic and most effective when people are coached on how to use them correctly. Laggards learn by skimming articles and viewing a few webinars. They have a very cursory understanding.

Lean transformation takes discipline not shortcuts. Great article, Mike!

Wanna Get Lean? Get Mean About Wasted Time, Effort, Production, and Transportation!

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.

Will Factories in a Box Revolutionize Sustainability Initiatives?

Gizmodo just ran a very interesting, and vey insightful article on how The Next Industrial Revolution Starts in this 20-foot Shipping Container about Re-Char and their Shop-in-a-Box that can perform rapid fabrication of steel parts by way of software and a CNC plasma torch. With the Shop-in-a-Box described in the article, Re-Char can produce 600 lids for Climate Kilns. This is a specialized lid-and-chimney integration that adapts a 55-gallon drum to produce the soil amendment biochar. (In Kenya, farmers burn sugarcane debris in an open field and release tons of carbon. A Climate Kiln controls the burn to produce the carbon-rich charcoal biochar that, mixed into soil, reduces the fertilizer requirements for crops by half.) This required the precision cutting of 18-gauge metal, which, in East Africa, leaves you the option of using a guy with an oxy-acetylene torch on the side of the highway or importing a full production run out of China, one full shipping container at a time. But for 30,000, Re-Char was able to produce a Shop-in-a-Box metal cutting and joining setup that could be run by two two people and produce 600 lids as a time, when needed, where needed (as the shop in a box can be moved to a new community when the needs of the current community have been fulfilled).

From a sustainability perspective, this is incredible. It’s lean, green, and completely against the routine. Actually, lean is an understatement. The power requirements are limited to what is needed to produce the lids. The energy required just to light, cool, etc. an average factory typically takes a 600 V feed … or two … or three. It’s green in that it can be powered by sustainable energy, including wind power, water power, or solar power – whatever is available. (Transformers come with the standard kit, along with generators for [natural] gas power for stability. Just add batteries and a UPS and it’s 100% green power most of the time.) And it’s completely against the routine. When the industrial revolution started, you can be that the robber barrons never predicted a moveable factory.

To date, the most (wide-spread) innovative use of containers has been data center modules, with Google a leader in this technology. (But this has been taken to the next level. For example, Green Data Center has designs for completely self-contained data center modules that you can drop anywhere. Just hook-up a power feed and an internet feed, and you’re literally good to go. (And since you can easily put a generator, or two, in a second container, you don’t even need a power feed. Just a natural gas feed, split between a couple of generators if you don’t have a sustainable power feed, for a primary feed.)

But we don’t have to stop at data centers and steel-part fabrication shops. Especially when we are talking about the developing world (which still includes much of Africa, South America, and parts of Asia). Do we really need to refine cane sugar 2,200 kgs at a time, for example? Or how about water purification? If we’re talking about a small community of a couple of hundred people, and the primary focus is clean drinking water, we don’t need to purify 100,000 liters a day! Purifying 1,000 liters would do nicely! Both processes would fit nicely in a container system. (After all, the sugar refinement process is not radically different from micro-brewing in terms of what is needed, and you could fit that nicely in a container too — although we can’t necessarily bring the same humanitarian arguments if we did.)

And when we’ve insured that everyone has the absolute necessities of clean air, clean water, and healthy food — we could ship them clothing factories in a box. It doesn’t make sense to sew shirts in sweat-shops on another continent just to ship them to small communities in Africa, or South America, or Asia, where the living wage is $2 a day or less. Considering the shipping costs alone, you couldn’t set the price at a point where you’d make many sales. Just ship a container to the town, train a few locals on the cloth-cutting production lines and find a few budding seamstresses to do the stiching, and produce the clothing where it will be sold. A zero-mile supply chain that emits zero-carbon and has zero shipping costs. And since you don’t have time-sensitive fashion industries in developing economies, you could even rotate it between a few small communities in the beginning while the consumer base and local economy built up. (Hopefully you’d also move the employees too if they were willing, as you could outfit another container as temporary living quarters without much cost or effort.)

I think the physical manifestation of the Solution-in-a-Box approach has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, distribution, and sustainability. And it’s not like we have a shortage of containers thanks to the outsourcing craze of the last fifteen years. They’re just sitting there waiting for a good use. And with all the super-panamax ships, and super-panamax capable ports, that we have at our disposal, we can get them from any continent to any other continent with ease, in bulk, and pretty close to where we want them. And then we just need a freightliner to haul them, and there’s no shortage of those.