Is it time for lean to get broader?

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Since then, the concept of lean manufacturing has become commonplace. It took a few years, but many visionary companies in a variety of industries eventually embraced the techniques pioneered by Toyota.

Indeed, grocery retailers like Tesco are now cited as some of the most enthusiastic and successful converts to the principles of lean. “Tesco’s power is such that they’ve succeeded better than anyone else in terms of lean manufacturing and taking on board Toyota’s lesson,” says Bob
Wileman, commercial director of supply chain consultancy group, TPL Logistics Management.

But supply chain analysts are becoming increasingly aware that there is still work to be done — adopting lean techniques is only a partial solution, especially for grocery retailers like Tesco.

“Part of the problem is that stores vary in their organisation,” says Wileman. “The whole functioning of unloading vehicles, storage in back rooms and moving produce on to the shelves isn’t working as well as it should, as even Tesco admits.”

Times change, and the world moves on. It may, once, have been enough to reduce waste throughout the supply chain and to make a quick buck via obvious money saving measures. But consider the three decades it took Toyota to perfect lean manufacturing: those decades saw a sustained period of economic growth in which prices fell and consumer choice expanded.

If the concept had been followed throughout the grocery supply chain, this should, in theory, have resulted in hordes of joyous customers browsing the major retailers’ shelves with contented grins on their faces. But it hasn’t. In fact, levels of dissatisfaction with the ‘consumer experience’ are growing.

Now, the work of Professor Daniel Jones and others has shed new light on this apparent paradox. At a recent work shop, run by TPL Logistics Management, as part of their Strategic Thinking Programme for leading grocery suppliers, Jones argued that supply chain professionals should begin to apply lean thinking to the processes of consumption time, he argues, to move away from the dominant grocery retail model that says work should be offloaded to the consumer to save time and money. All that does is frustrate the poor shoppers, who after all make up the most important part of the supply chain.

“What does the customer want, other than mere transaction?” asks Bob Wileman. “Jones’s views have significant implications for retailing of all kinds because retailing won’t simply be composed of buying groceries. It will be an ongoing relationship — that’s why supermarkets introduced
loyalty cards, after all, to get a better understanding of the customer. They’re in a much better position now to know exactly how each of us behaves — but that’s only the first step. Can retailers eventually be a one-stop shop for any thing you can think of, delivered to your door?”

There is a degree of speculation here, of course. But the supply chain really does appear to be on the cusp of another revolution. TPL Logistics Management are working to improve awareness of these issues among supply chain professionals by offering a series of workshops focusing on these revolutionary concepts. The workshops are offered to the Gold members of their Manufacturer’s Distribution Initiative — TPL MANDI —
essentially a supply chain improvement forum for logistics professionals.

“TPL MANDI group runs separate specialist workshops to develop expertise in areas of particular importance,” says Bob Wileman. “Our work is at two levels. Operational excellence is about improving what’s there already — by examining how people achieve best practice. And at the strategic level, where things can’t be improved by simply changing what’s already there, we apply ideas and experience from our consulting team.”

Hardly surprising, then, that Daniel Jones’s ideas have been received with great enthusiasm by existing TPL MANDI members — and will no doubt be keenly debated at the next workshop on 19 April.

“As this evolves, people whose infrastructures are already creaking will have to increase the detailed work they do for each customer and that’s going to have an impact on the supply chain,” says Wileman. “Rather than having call centres to put things right, they’re going to have to invest
at the front end where the customer has contact. You can already see a contrast between retailers that employ higher paid staff who are inevitably better at troubleshooting, and others that tend to pay less and therefore have less knowledgeable and less responsive staff.”

Lean production came to dominate thinking in manufacturing industries worldwide. Daniel Jones argues that lean consumption will do the same. Supply chain professionals should ask themselves a simple question: are we prepared to take advantage?

To follow up on the above, contact TPL LOGISTICS MANAGEMETN Rhiannon Spurgeon: +44(0)1252 737939

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