In line with the popular trend toward healthy lifestyles, the transport and logistics industry has also decided to watch its waistline. Maciej Tyburczy, Lean Manager & Data Protection Officer at the AsstrA-Associated Traffic AG corporate group, explains how a logistics enterprise can effectively lose some weight and get lean.
What is Lean Management?
Lean Management is a set of cultural and philosophical principles that help enterprises to develop in line with its strategy and the needs of its employees. In this way, Lean Management is a tool that can achieve enterprise goals.
Lean Management helps increase customer satisfaction. With it we can improve even the most complex processes in a company. Lean Management teaches us to consider various issues thoroughly and from different points of view so as not to miss anything.
Does the logistics industry need lean solutions?
Yes, of course. First of all, Lean Management allows transport and logistics industry players to manage limited resources effectively in order to achieve more at the least cost.
Let's take warehouses, for example. The space inside them is very limited, so we need to manage goods so that they all fit properly. Another example is the loading process. It is necessary to properly monitor it, so that the optimal amount of cargo is placed in containers or trucks. Also, transportation documents should always be prepared in a timely manner, and at the same time all processes related to payment should be taken into account. And these are just a few issues that companies in our industry must solve. The Lean Management concept helps optimize all the processes involved.
What does the "wonder diet" look like according to a Lean Manager?
In order to have a logistics company lose a few extra kilograms and get lean, there are several rules to follow. We have to define, analyze, and optimize processes in time in order to meet the expectations of customers and continue the development of the company.
Is the logistics industry a piece of cake for a Lean Manager or rather a tough nut to crack?
Logistics has its own characteristics and complex processes, as does any industry. A Lean Manager therefore has the significant challenge of optimizing complex, advanced, and sometimes unpredictable operations. It is necessary to take into account many issues, including ever shifting variables in multiple business functions, the human factor, limited resources, and the expectations of process owners and other stakeholders.
Interestingly, in the transport and logistics industry it is sometimes difficult to identify a process itself, as it flows in the computers or the minds of employees. In this sense everything is quite different than, for example, in manufacturing plants. It can be quite complicated to analyze processes.
The Lean Manager must base his work on specific data and facts related to a given process. In addition, operations should be visualized – especially those operations not explicitly defined or obvious to observers. Only after this step it is possible to proceed with comprehensive analysis. In "lean" decisions there is no place for guesswork or speculation. Only clear facts guide the process.
What are some examples of using "lean" solutions in the transportation business?
There are many such examples. But let's focus on a few of them.
Firstly, the Voice of Customer (VOC) technique focuses on actively listening to customers, forecasting their needs, and meeting those needs.
Secondly, the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) accelerates all operations and guarantees high service quality levels.
It is also worth mentioning the Customer Relationship Management concept (CRM), which strengthens relationships with customers and partner companies.
The Just In Time technique (JIT) is very useful, too. This approach suggests that processes be executed and their products be delivered at a specific time. Not early, not late, but just in time. Documents should be prepared only when absolutely necessary. We should not do work in advance because something may change and require the documents to be prepared again. And it is not recommended to prepare documents later than necessary, as doing so negatively affects the work quality and client satisfaction.
Muda (a Japanese word meaning something useless or unnecessary) is another Lean Management approach. It focuses on eliminating losses caused by processes of activities that do not increase the value of the product or service offered by a company.
It should be remembered that all these concepts should be accompanied by continuous process improvement and problem solving.
Lean Management today, and what about tomorrow?
One thing is clear: tomorrow's version of Lean Management will evolve towards its next stage, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), i.e., the automation of processes that have been previously optimized with lean tools. After all, a process must first be standardized before it can be automated. But not all operations can be automated – especially processes based, for example, on direct contact with clients.
Robotic Process Automation concerns repetitive, standardized processes – like those related to information flows or warehouse storage – that can be performed by computer programs or physical robots.
It is worth noting that RPA will not replace the concept of Lean Management but will only expand the capabilities and tools available to optimize processes. We should remember that we can automate only those operations that have been defined explicitly and rely on standardized and repetitive processes. Therefore, success here is sequential: completing one stage is a prerequisite to moving on to the next one.