M&S Logistics were looking for Lean training and support with their efforts on Operational Excellence. But rather than theoretical training in the classroom, they wanted to embed learning whilst delivering a measurable return on investment – through targeting and solving some important business problems.
We ran a 3-month programme consisting of 4 Action Teams to emphasise ‘learning by doing’ – applying the right Lean principles and problem-solving tools in an effective way using team work to deliver tangible benefits to the business by making processes and practices ‘easier, better, faster and cheaper’:
- The programme started with training on both Lean and structured problem-solving – using a (fun) simulation.
- Each cross-functional team then took the time to clearly defined the business problem they had been tasked in solving – covering:
1. Transport operations
2. Planning processes
3. Warehouse operations
4. ‘M&S.com’ e-commerce
- Through measurement, analysis and ‘go see’ observations, the teams were encouraged to ‘learn to see’ how processes really operate in practice (rather than what is in manuals) and to get to the true root causes of the problems.
- Improvement ideas were generated and prioritised through the application of the most appropriate Lean tools and techniques. A number of Lean tools were introduced including process mapping, Pareto analysis, cause and effect diagrams, etc.
- The Action Teams ran in parallel to a well-structured and ambitious 12-week timetable, each working through the same steps of Define-Measure-Analyse-Plan-Improve-Control.
- At the end of 12-weeks, each team presented back to the Logistics Senior Leadership Team.
Making the difference
1. EASIER – Transport operations
This team pinpointed an impressive step-change opportunity to apply industry best practice by significantly optimising and rationalising the number of transit cartons in use across the group.
The benefits in better container utilisation alone were estimated at between £1m to £2m p.a. In addition, the team aimed to demonstrate from a trial other benefits relating to faster container loading and global procurement efficiencies across the supply chain from the use of this standard range of cartons.
2. BETTER – Planning processes
This team took on the task of improving goods-in arrival visibility in order to make goods-out forecasting more accurate and to provide the warehouse operational teams with an opportunity to better optimise both space and labour.
The use of process mapping helped in defining, simplifying and streamlining the process. An 8-week trial was planned at one Regional Distribution Centre (RDC).
3. FASTER – Warehouse operations
This team observed vehicle loading at two different RDCs to pinpoint the most efficient method. By trialling alternative loading patterns, streamlining and standardising procedures (removing non-value adding activities), and introducing measures to drive performance, the team were able to improve efficiency by ~8%. The estimated savings were in region of £40k p.a. for each RDC where the new approach is adopted. In addition, there was a quick win identified through ‘go see’ of £32k per annum by one site adopting a simple standard practice.
4. CHEAPER – ‘M&S.com’ e-commerce
This team explored options for reducing the cost of small parcel deliveries. By analysing historical data on the size and weight of parcels being shipped and the choices made in terms of carrier and service, the team were able to spot a ‘size of the prize’ opportunity of more than £2m p.a.
By then observing the operations first hand (‘go see’) and involving staff on the front-line who are making the decisions, the team were able to generate 3 significant options for improvement – involving introducing a new consumable size, potentially turning-off a less competitive service option, and making a system change to drive use of the most cost-effective route.
These 3 options provided an overall saving opportunity in the region of £3.5m p.a.
Action Teams – Learning by doing
Experience has taught us that the emphasis on developing Lean capability must come through ‘learning by doing’. For example, we know that the core Lean tools are only of real use if applied as part of the day job. The key is to be able to choose the right Lean tools at the right time for the job at hand and applying a few simple things well can make a real difference.
We applied our proven methodology and Lean approaches (i.e. the thinking, principles, behaviours, and techniques) while working hand-in-hand with each of the M&S teams to design and plan their improvements – with the 4 Action Teams running in parallel over 12-weeks:
Our work with the M&S Logistics function demonstrates that if we engage people and excite them about improvement, they will achieve significant and sustainable benefits.
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