Lean Article

Ashley Y. Metcalf’s picture

By: Ashley Y. Metcalf

Lean supply chains are designed based on several key principles. First, the general philosophy of lean is to reduce or eliminate nonvalue-added waste. The concept of reducing waste is always beneficial to organizations. We should continuously strive to reduce things like wasted time, wasted effort, wasted processing, wasted travel, and wasted packaging. So, even in times of disruption or crisis, efforts to reduce wasted steps or processing can actually benefit the organization. This efficiency is a good thing.

A second key principle of lean supply chains is where it gets tricky regarding the risk of disruptions. This principle is just-in-time (JIT) supply. The JIT principle means inventory and supplies are delivered just when they are needed. So instead of holding weeks or months of inventory, an organization might get daily deliveries, just as needed. When things are running smoothly, this is a great system because it significantly reduces the amount of money spent on holding inventory. Lean can even reduce losses due to perishable inventory or obsolescence because there are no warehouses full of dusty redundant items. But, of course, in the case of supply chain disruptions, the same lack of inventory can be devastating to ongoing operations.

Knowledge at Wharton’s picture

By: Knowledge at Wharton

A new study finds that productivity has remained stable or even increased for many companies that shifted to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic. However, innovation has taken a hit as both leaders and employees feel more distant from each other.

Businesses tend to spend less money and take less risks during uncertain times, but researchers also attribute the current innovation deficit to the difficulty with collaboration that often comes with working from home. Videoconferencing and instant messaging apps can’t perfectly replicate the dynamics of being together in the same room, hashing out ideas, and feeding off the energy of co-workers.

“It’s a challenge to feel connected, confident, and communicate effectively with the team, and we know from a lot of research that creativity and innovation largely happen through collaboration,” Wharton management professor Michael Parke said during a segment of the Wharton Business Daily radio show on SiriusXM.

Joshua Pearce’s picture

By: Joshua Pearce

People will recycle if they can make money doing so. In places where cash is offered for cans and bottles, metal and glass recycling has been a great success. Sadly, the incentives have been weaker for recycling plastic. As of 2015, only 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled. The rest pollutes landfills or the environment.

But now, several technologies have matured that allow people to recycle waste plastic directly by 3D-printing it into valuable products, at a fraction of their normal cost. People are using their own recycled plastic to make decorations and gifts, home and garden products, accessories and shoes, toys and games, sporting goods, and gadgets from millions of free designs. This approach is called distributed recycling and additive manufacturing, or DRAM for short.

As a professor of materials engineering at the forefront of this technology, I can explain—and offer some ideas for what you can do to take advantage of this trend.

Steven Ouellette’s picture

By: Steven Ouellette

What is the most important thing for your business to be working on right now? Would everyone else working there agree? Is everyone working toward the business’s goals? How do you know?

Most businesses in my experience cannot answer these questions. There may be metrics, but they are not translated down to individual contributors or integrated with each other. They may be incomplete. Management may announce every year that this is the year we are all going to work on profit, or customer satisfaction, or some metric they read about in an article, but they never translate what that means for individuals, and nothing seems to change. There is often an idea that we should be doing something as a business, but different opinions as to what that might be. There is internal competition rather than cooperation.

You need a process to not only be able to answer these questions, but also to answer them with data. Everyone in the company needs to be able to show how they contribute to the organization’s goals.

Jay Arthur—The KnowWare Man’s picture

By: Jay Arthur—The KnowWare Man

There are two ways to increase profits: increase sales or reduce costs. Although most data analysis seeks to find more ways to sell more stuff to more people, addressing preventable problems is an often overlooked opportunity. Preventable problems consume a third or more of corporate expenses and profits.

Data analysis can pinpoint problems and eliminate them forever. Problem solving with data is a much more reliable and controllable way to cut costs and increase profits. Sadly, few people know how to do this consistently.

How do you solve operational problems with 100-percent success rate? Take out the guesswork. The vast majority of improvement projects involve reducing or eliminating defects, mistakes, and errors. If you have raw data about when the defect occurred, where it happened, and what type of defect it was, you can create a world-class improvement project that eliminates the guesswork. And you can do it using a tool you most likely already have: Microsoft Excel.

Michelle LaBrosse’s picture

By: Michelle LaBrosse

Do you find the idea of having to do project management almost as much fun as getting a root canal? If so, you’re not alone. But it doesn’t have to be as bad as a painful dental procedure to adopt more effective ways of managing your projects.

Nor does it have to be extremely boring or some type of mandatory activity folks know is good for them, but no one wants to take the time to do. That is the problem with how many good people approach what passes for “project management.”

Often, project management approaches seem to be to satisfy some bureaucratic mandate issued from on high.

In other words, someone somewhere thought someone else improving how they did their projects would be a great idea.

This is the lip-service approach to project management. It doesn’t grasp the why or how of effective project management.

Effective project management is essentially effective leadership

Here are 10 tips to be a more effective leader when doing your projects:

1. Start far fewer projects. Yes, you read that correctly. When you take the time to do a thorough feasibility analysis, establish the cost-benefit analysis, and evaluate the potential risks you could encounter, it’s likely most projects won’t even get off the starting block. This is a very good thing.

MIT News’s picture

By: MIT News

Buildings account for about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, and are responsible for one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions. Making buildings more energy-efficient is not only a cost-saving measure, but also a crucial climate-change mitigation strategy. Hence the rise of “smart” buildings, which are increasingly becoming the norm around the world.

Smart buildings automate systems like heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting, electricity, and security. Automation requires sensory data, such as indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, and occupancy status. Smart buildings leverage data in a combination of technologies that can make them more energy-efficient.

Since HVAC systems account for nearly half of a building’s energy use, smart buildings use smart thermostats, which automate HVAC controls and can learn the temperature preferences of a building’s occupants.

Jane Bianchi’s picture

By: Jane Bianchi

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you’re a primary care physician and you refer one of your patients to another doctor for a colonoscopy. Will the patient follow through? If not, how will your team know to remind him or her? If the patient does receive a colonoscopy, will your team be alerted so you can evaluate and respond to the exam results?

High-performing healthcare teams that are organized and trained to do what’s best for the patient can shine in this type of scenario, while low-performing teams can inadvertently let patients fall between the cracks. How do you make sure your healthcare team is one of the effective ones?

New research co-authored by Sara Singer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, provides answers.

Eric Whitley’s picture

By: Eric Whitley

Any company that decides to enter the mattress business is no doubt entranced by one undeniable fact: Everybody needs one.

Those companies that start producing and selling mattresses also quickly run into a harsh fact: Everybody already has one.

Purple saw opportunity. It looked at the positives and the negatives of the mattress business, and decided the only way to succeed was to be better than everyone else. Better innovators, better manufacturers, better fulfillment specialists. Simply put, Purple had to change the game.

So, it did. Purple is a comfort technology company that designs and manufactures products to help people feel and live better through innovative comfort solutions. Purple designs and manufactures a range of comfort technology products, including mattresses, pillows, and seat cushions. Brothers Tony and Terry Pearce, both engineers, founded Purple.

Their quest to design and build the world's best mattress resulted in an incredibly responsive, pliable, strong material called hyper-elastic polymer. They had a game-changing innovation; now, they just had to build it.

Sue Via’s picture

By: Sue Via

Research has shown that during economic uncertainty, companies that find a balance between reducing resources to survive and investing in key areas for growth will fare better through the recession and beyond. It’s a nuanced approach to playing offense and defense at the same time.

But many small and medium-sized manufacturers that have been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic find themselves with what seem to be few options. They have reduced resources to the point that they have no time for anything beyond operations. When they do have time, it’s from a decrease in business, which means they do not have money to invest.

As a result, they may have become risk-averse, hesitant to upgrade machinery, or hire before business returns. But opportunity involves risk. Hunkering down to wait out economic uncertainty is typically not a path for future stability, growth, or even change.

A key for getting out of risk-aversion mode is creating a culture that encourages ideas and is willing to question if there might be a better way to do something. Continuous improvement starts with a mindset. But it also depends on a methodology or systems so that activities become part of routines and are measured and reviewed.

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