Lean  

Keep it simple: Lean execution and computer systems

Managing the relationship between simple lean techniques and complex computer systems
 Keep computer systems simple
 
 

Written by Ian Batey, Principal – Operational Excellence, Capgemini Consulting

Throughout the years I’ve been engaged in operational excellence projects and there is one challenge that has always been a constant.  How do I reconcile my lean execution system with my computer support system?  Like oil and water, they struggle to mix. 

The lean zealots will insist you should do away with systems...they are an admission of failure.  In many ways, this is very true, but misses a fundamental truism.   Not all things can be made simple.  Cross-border, cross organisation and cross language communications and structures; complex product options exacerbated by lumpy demand; the need for ever shortening response times; all add to a level of ‘irreducible complexity’. 

Though I would even challenge the root-cause of these complexities,before I accepted them as being irreducible, my experience is that while you can minimise and militate against them, there always remains a core which needs support.

To get the best from improvements in this environment, demands a strange hybrid of systems savvy, lean thinking.   For a major electronics OEM, the compromise involved segmenting some of their ‘Runner’ products (highly predictable/stable demand) as a group managed outside the main MRP system using a Kanban pull system.  Demand for lower level components and raw materials (which was common to other segments) is driven by a forecast based on the throughput rate of the lean pull system as well as dependant demand coming throughMRP from other segments.   To handle the execution meant that common components were issued as line-side or pull stock to the lean segment (unplanned issue in’ MRP speak’) and through conventional MRP kit issues for the rest.   For some items, we also used a 2 bin replenishment process (both physically and within MRP’sordering method).

This sounds a little complex, but effectively you are taking as much as you can outside the system and then managing the rest with systems.  Aligning system parameters (MRP ordering method) to their (near) equivalent physical/lean (2bin/Kanban) processes is possible and is greatly simplified in contemporary MRP systems with recent embellishments  such as non-MRP stocks, line-side stocks and support to pull systems.

The chemists among you will know that to make oil and water mix, you simply need to add soap.  In our case the soap is simply the following three simple rules; use lean techniques to simplify as far as is humanly possible; use systems to deal with the irreducible complexity;  and most importantly of all, apply lean thinking to the way you configure those systems to” keep them simple stupid”.

Discover more about Capgemini's lean solutions here: http://www.uk.capgemini.com/services-and-solutions/services/supply-chain/solutions/lean/ 

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