Any organization works well and produces desired results in the long term, only when it strives for regular improvement. Basic principles of Kaizen, a Japanese philosophy of “continuous improvement”, has been continuously used as an important tool by many organizations to achieve the same.
Warehousing and supply chain management are no exceptions. With processes that need co-ordinated working of many departments with different functions under each of them means chances of errors remain high and perfecting any process is really hard. The concept of continuous improvement by making small changes could help in making the processes efficient day by day.
Kaizen’s continuous improvement cycle talks about four major steps:
Identification of problem areas can be seen as the first step to this. Taking a closer look at day to day operations in a supply chain process, can give insights on various problem areas that need improvement. A superficial inspection doesn’t help. Attention to details is the key to success. This is further followed by creating a plan for the solution of the problems identified. Inefficiency, mishandling, delays and error prone areas should be specifically identified and should have a dedicated plan for improvement.
Implementation stands strong as the next important step in the Kaizen cycle. A very crucial aspect of the Kaizen principle is valuing people. This suggests that the improvement process needs to consider the staff and employees as key partners. The people in the supply chain management are connecting links between every operation. They face challenges and can suggest innovative ideas and solutions. The employees working at ground level should be considered as medium for the implementation of improvement plans.
Control mechanism in any organization plays the role of a guard. Once implemented, the improvement plan needs to be checked at different levels to rectify any process that doesn’t work. It helps in comparing new outputs with the previous ones and hence, saves resources and avoids overspending.
The final step involves the action based on the analysis done and knowledge gained by the previous levels of the improvement plan. Testing the solutions planned, is important before implementing the changes on a larger scale. The aim is to make changes on smaller levels that help in long term improvements. In the case of a supply chain, different practical situations should be considered. All the possibilities should be measured and discussed before devising the final plan. Standardisation of changes becomes an irreversible process in complex supply chains and creates chaos. Hence, before standardisation, it is important to test the solution in different scenarios.
Kaizen emphasizes on the specificity of the improvement areas. In supply chain management, it suggests that making improvements in specific departments can create an overall effect on the business. Scheduling, prioritising, mapping, setting goals and making smaller changes can result in bigger benefits. Different areas targeted in supply chain management could be employee management, technology, infrastructure, design network, waste management and transportation.
As simple as it sounds, this transformative procedure has been difficult to achieve for many. Improvement process can be challenging in terms of having the required resources and executing the implementation. Hence having a clear achievable goal and smaller benchmarks becomes crucial.