Lean Sigma Tools for Supply Chain, part 1

Not all of the lessons from Toyota and Motorola translate well into health care, project management, product development, services but many easily do. Here’s a partial list for supply chain. Have any additions, comments, or examples to share?

Lean Sigma Tools for Supply Chain
Lean Sigma Tool Definition Supply Chain Application
Brainstorming Generate a wide range of ideas around any topic. Why not get the warehouse pickers together from time to time to engage them in a discussion on safety, accuracy, or productivity improvements?
Affinity diagrams Sort the post-its in to logical groups, and give each cluster a name. Start or end of shift crew meetings can have a team problem or improvement board. Sorting suggestions, brainstorm ideas, or process defects in a public forum is a great way to engage the warehouse or office.
Multivote One way to prioritize or narrow down a list of alternatives. Instead of the squeaky wheel, or the boss’ mandate, allowing the folks to set their own priorities for continuous improvement is one way to foster engagement and buy-in.
Process mapping Come in a variety of styles: flow charts, swimming lanes, spaghetti, etc. A visual model of the process. Helpful training aid. For many a flow chart is easier to comprehend than a standard operation procedure text.
Process observation Gain a deep understanding of a process in action by planning what you want to capture and how you plan on doing it. Most processes have too much going on all at one to be able to ‘see’ what’s really happening, so we focus on one ‘actor’ at a time and usually start by watching what happened to the product or service, then is a separate session observe the machines or technology, and then only after really understanding product and process to we observe the people and what they are doing. Reason? People are almost always victims of the processes and products others designed. In supply chain there are a number of challenges. First hurdle is recognizing that there is a process. What is the product or service supply chain provides? Is it movement of goods or processing of information or both?
SIPOC Supplier, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customer – a visual table or chart to help define process boundaries and stakeholders. Every new WMS or TMS project should start with a charter, project plan and a SIPOC to get all the players calibrated on who is who and why. Surprising the confusion often found around understanding who the customer is and what happens up and down stream.
Spaghetti map Stable yourself to a order or component and follow it through the process, always enlightening, often embarrassing when plotted on a facility layout Pick path maps often show problems: location inaccuracies, split lots, poor slotting. Your WMS may direct traffic, even if it does it can be worthwhile to follow a picker around and watch for dead ends, reversals, treasure hunts.
Swim lanes Flow chart arranged with rows or columns to show functional handoffs. From customer order through sourcing, planning, scheduling, receiving, putaway, pick, pack, ship the number of times the order and product are touched, adjusted, queued, handed off, and acted on is the start at recognizing waste and variation in supply chain management.
VA Analysis Breaking down a process into activities and then deciding if the customer would think each task was valuable. Most of Supply Chain is non value added. Just moving product from here to there doesn’t change the product. Some will argue that the end customer is willing to pay to move product, so any activity that doesn’t move the product closer to the customer is waste. Does the customer care if you have to inspect the paperwork, or put the pallet in and out of a rack?
7 Wastes A way to categorize non value-added activities and help us see waste: overproduction, defects, transportation, waiting, inventory, motion, processing. Also known as ‘muda’. Overproduction – unnecessary packaging Defects – inventory record errors, shipping damage, mislabeled Transportation – shipping from the wrong DC Waiting – queuing up orders Inventory – excess, slow moving, obsolete Motion – rearranging a split pallet, reaching for supplies Processing – unnecessary tasks
Check sheets Simply a list of tasks, hopefully unambiguous and logically sequenced.  A memory aid. Wouldn’t want an airplane pilot to take off with out running through the preflight checklist, why conduct a physical inventory without one?
Frequency plot Also known as a histogram. Helps to see the distribution of a set of data. A statistical tool. More picking errors on small orders or large, or early in the shift or at the end? Collect some data and plot it to find out.
Measurement System Analysis Statistical study to determine if the accuracy of an measure is adequate. Many warehouses have labor productivity goals or standards. How accurate and reliable is the record keeping? If the case pick to powered pallet jack is standard 52 lines an hour should a picker be concerned about achieving only 50, or feel great about hitting 54?
Total Productive Maintenance An approach to maximizing the effectiveness of facilities used within a business. Total productive maintenance, or TPM, aims to improve the condition and performance of particular facilities through simple, repetitive maintenance activities. Based on a culture of teamwork and consensus, TPM teams are encouraged to take a proactive approach to maintenance. A team is made up of operators and those involved in the setting up and maintenance of the facilities. Got to keep the lifts running, batteries charged, printers printing … Does equipment downtime ever become an excuse? Don’t let the equipment decide when to take a break, schedule the maintenance on your own terms. Factories have figured this out why not the warehouses?
DMAIC Project planning mnemonic – define, measure, analyze, improve, and control Why not use this outline on any change initiative?
FMEA Failure Modes and Effects Analysis – often used in postmortem, best used to prevent. Better to anticipate what could go wrong with the new WMS installation than to have to deal with the clean up after the meltdown.
Gemba Go see. Don’t theorize from the front office, instead to to where the issue, problem, value lives and look at it. Looking in the racks, using the white glove test (how thick is the dust on the slow moving stock?), observing the housekeeping is all part of the visual management and servant leadership culture of lean sigma in supply chain.




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