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Production Planning & Control Lean guiding principles for the supply chain

Dec 1, 2015

This article talks on Built-in Quality - one of the lean guiding principles, to develop a lean culture in a supply chain operation. With processes designed to make work flow correctly, and tools available to eliminate small problems before they grow large, employees can focus on delivering excellent products and services that increase overall customer satisfaction.

In the supply chain arena, a lean culture offers tremendous rewards, but pursuing a lean strategy also requires a significant commitment. Luckily, becoming lean doesn’t mean you have to re-engineer your operation. You can work with a logistics partner to make continuous, incremental gains in quality and efficiency.

Built-in Quality: Get it right the first time

High quality in the production and distribution of products improves your bottomline. If employees always know where to find the product they need, goods flow smoothly from one section of the facility to the next. Orders can be filled correctly, completely and on-time, satisfying customer demand. You save time because there’s no need to correct mistakes, and you save money because your product is never damaged and retailers don’t experience stock-outs. Your efficiency often allows you to take advantage of lower-cost transportation options.

You can’t enjoy these advantages by inspecting for quality after the fact. The way to ensure quality is to perform work correctly the first time. That means building quality into every process.

Mistake-proofing to eliminate rework

A company should engineer its supply chain processes with its workers in mind. Any worker should be able to perform processes perfectly to meet the requirements of customers and other stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies. Once the engineering team designs a process, they conduct a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)—a trial run in which someone tries on purpose to “break” the process. By locating weak points where mistakes might occur, the engineers are able to bring the process even closer to perfection.

Next, the design team decides which metrics it will use to determine whether the process is meeting its requirements. Then it documents the standards for performing the work. The team describes the process in text and also creates simple how-to instructions using photographs to illustrate each step for employees.
When a lean business opens a new supply chain facility, it follows the procedures described above to create and document each process that workers in the facility will perform. It then monitors work in the facility for 90 days to make sure that all the processes are working as expected. Once those processes are validated, the facility is certified to be fully operational. Over time, as customers’ needs change and the facility starts to handle different products, the engineering team creates, documents and certifies new processes, always aiming to ensure that anyone can perform the work without error.

In-process controls

Along with designing error-proof tasks, a company can implement safeguards that prevent mistakes while work is in process. Some of these in-process controls may be simple visual reminders. Technology also helps. For instance, an employee who is packing a box with ten items might use a scale to check the weight of that box. If each item weighs one pound, the employee cannot accidentally pack the box with eleven items. The ten-pound reading on the scale signals that the packing job is complete. This safeguard ensures that the employee sends only correctly-packed boxes to the next station.

Bar code scanning systems help to maintain quality at many points along the supply chain. In a warehouse, pickers working along a row will scan location codes to ensure that they are in the right aisle. When they start picking, they scan the locations where product is stored to confirm that they have arrived at the right slots. The scanner display then tells the workers how many boxes to pick. As they carry out their instructions, they scan the labels on each box, and the system confirms that they have chosen the right products. These multiple checks help to ensure that pickers fill their orders correctly. Subsequent scans as boxes are loaded onto pallets or into a trailer further reinforce the quality chain.

Understanding root causes

Even the most carefully-crafted processes, and the most reliable in-process controls, won’t eliminate errors completely. When a mistake slips past the safeguards, you need to dig down to get at the root of the problem. The goal is to further mistake-proof the process by ensuring that the error never has a chance to recur.
Consider a series of orders that include a certain model of graphics cards for a desktop computer. Before these orders are loaded onto a truck, an audit finds that they all contain the wrong card. As soon as the auditor uncovers the mistake, it’s time to stop work and walk back through the process to discover what went wrong. It’s not enough to replace the wrong cards with the right ones for today’s shipment. The team needs to discover the cause of the error and correct it, so the process is performed perfectly in the future.

A tool called the “Five Whys” helps employees step back through the process, discovering, for example, why the pickers picked the wrong card (because the bins were mislabeled) and why the bins were mislabeled (because the database contained an error), and so on.

A tool called a fishbone diagram also helps employees analyse the causes of an error by:

  • Drawing a central line labeled with the name of the defect (the fish’s spine)

  • Drawing the “bones” that radiate from the spine to represent categories of problems that might cause the defect

  • Brainstorming about possible causes within each category.

Using tools like these, employee teams and their manager can stop fighting fires—rushing to correct problems after they occur—and concentrate on fire prevention.

Instant feedback

In the quest for quality, there’s no room for delay. You can’t wait for a Friday meeting to tell a supply chain team that in filling an order for side view mirrors on Monday, it shipped rear view mirrors instead. Workers will be hard-pressed to recall who picked that order, which aisles they worked, what instructions they received and what exactly they did.

Part of a team leader or supervisor’s responsibility is to help employees do their work according to established standards. When one of those leaders finds that a process is not working up to par, it presents an opportunity for coaching. The leader should take the employee aside immediately, explain what isn’t going right and provide instruction on how to do the work better. Leaders should also provide instant feedback when they observe employees performing their work remarkably well.

Get everyone involved

In a lean culture, it is every employee’s job to perform work according to the documented standards and to take responsibility for quality control. A lean operation empowers employees to spot problems and fix them. But more than that, it empowers them to investigate why the problems occurred in the first place, in order to eliminate those ultimate causes and make sure the mistakes never happen again.

To transform employees into quality experts, it’s essential to eliminate fear from the equation. Employees should feel free to voice concerns, and to stop the flow of work to correct an error. When someone spots a mistake, that should never become an occasion for blame. The goal is not to point fingers, but to set things right so the team can continue to do the best job possible for its customers. Then the team should celebrate the improvement.


A lean culture builds quality into every facet of its operation. With processes designed to make work flow correctly, and tools available to eliminate small problems before they grow large, employees can focus on delivering excellent products and services that increase overall customer satisfaction.

Courtesy: Ryder Supply Chain Solutions

Image Gallery

  • Using tools like these, employee teams and their manager can stop fighting fires—rushing to correct problems after they occur—and concentrate on fire prevention

  • Benefits of Built-In Quality

  • Lean Guiding Principles for the supply chain principle 2: Built-In Quality

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