Shift towards a culture of continuous improvement

Aug. 11, 2020
Lean management principles can have a tremendous effect on a company’s culture

By Keith Ingels, TPS Manager for Service Centers at The Raymond Corporation

COVID-19 has put unprecedented pressure on material handling and supply chain operations throughout the world. Now more than ever, operations are relying on intralogistics solutions to keep up with ever increasing consumer demand. As businesses begin to reopen, now is the time for operations to proactively think about how they will function in the post-pandemic world.

Lean management principles can have a tremendous effect on a company’s culture. With distribution, supply chain and warehousing operations ramping up to full capacity, now is the time to make a shift towards a culture of continuous improvement by investing in your organization’s people, process, and production.

Provide more autonomy to your workforce

As workers begin to return to the warehouse floor, it is important to keep morale high throughout the organization. Lean management adds value to an organization by empowering employees to take ownership for the tasks they accomplish on a daily basis. By teaching workers to spot inefficiencies, errors, or potential defects, lean management provides them with practical tools to share their ideas and develop impactful, long-term solutions. A key component of lean management is kaizen, or small, consistent improvements. Employees throughout an organization are taught to identify wastes in their processes and come up with solutions to address those wastes by submitting kaizens to management. If a kaizen is found to be successful, it will then be implemented throughout the operation. This opportunity to impact organizational change creates a more engaged employee culture, resulting in higher morale and workforce retention.

Fine-tune processes to root out inefficiencies

It may take some time for your workforce to return to full production, so it’s important to make sure your operation stays productive and efficient in the first few weeks of reopening. Lean management methods are based on the world renown Toyota Production Systems (TPS) philosophies of achieving the complete elimination of all waste in pursuit of the most efficient methods. Through the process of visualization, clearly defined, step-by-step processes are established. These standardized processes allow organizations to create clearly defined employee expectations, ensuring consistency of labor and materials, and eliminate or reduce non-value-added steps resulting in higher operational efficiency and productivity. Documenting standards and identifying opportunities for improvement is the key to long-term, sustainable business improvements.

Continue to foster a culture of improvement

Every operation should be reassessing their current practices and determining if there are opportunities for optimization. The same goes for lean management: for lean to be truly effective, a culture of continuous improvement needs to be adopted throughout an organization, top to bottom. Collaboration between teams is a vital part of lean management’s philosophy. Departments participate in daily meetings to review yesterday’s defects and errors and to give “shout-outs” to employees who are doing exceptional work. With the collective goal of reducing waste, lean management transforms a company’s culture to focus on improved quality by constantly searching out optimization opportunities.

Warehouse, supply, and distribution centers will be forever changed by COVID-19. An optimized warehouse creates more space for product, increases workforce productivity, and leverages lift trucks for the best suitable task. Ultimately, this will lead to cost savings that can be reinvested throughout the organization. Implementing solutions and procedures, such as lean management optimizes a warehouse creates more space for product, increases workforce productivity and leads to continuous improvement — all of which, ultimately, drives cost savings that can then be used to invest back in to your business.

The lessons learned over the past few months will forever change the way material handling operations function.

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