The Importance of Reflection in Lean Leadership

As typical of a material planner, one's day is dealt with various challenges and obstacles. Aware of these challenges, I typically meet weekly with the planners via conference call to reflect and identify actions/steps to improve upon the challenges and obstacles faced through the inbound supply chain.

This time however, we conducted our weekly reflection meeting in person. I’d scheduled the meeting in the afternoon as that time is typically smoother for the material planner to discuss improvements.

The focus of this meeting was around a large cluster of suppliers that the engineering team had completed for the material planner's facility. The analysis suggested a tweak to their inbound ordering strategy which promotes frequent and stable deliveries utilizing consolidated/milk run shipments. This proposed analysis projected upwards of $75K annual transportation savings and roughly 17% savings from the transportation spend for that cluster of suppliers.

As I went through the savings opportunities, I began to notice the facial expression of the material planner change to defensive. Thinking it was probably a good time to get her feedback, I asked, “What do you think? Is this possible?”

Her response (as expected) was: “No, and here’s why.” Basically, we got into a 15-minute conversation about the potential roadblocks. Everything from “I don’t trust the supplier’s ability to adhere to the plan” to “this is too much work on my end” and even “The MRP system is cumbersome and would be manual in creating a plan similar to what you are suggesting."

Understanding what the planner was getting to, I guided the conversation and focused on what problem we were aiming to solve for the customer. To level set again, I asked the planner, “What problem are we here to solve?” I answered my own question: “We want to consolidate suppliers X, Y and Z every week - preferably on this day to reap the most in transportation savings. The goal is to potentially save $75K annually and reach the inventory reduction goal that your manager has challenged you to achieve."

Feeling I had redirected the planner’s focus back to continuous improvement, I asked, “If we take out the systems aspect of it, I’m assuming that systems are the only roadblock since the business process is cumbersome and manual. What do you suggest?”

That key question turned the course of the meeting in a positive way. While reflecting upon the positives of the proposed analysis, I engaged the planner to take out the “obstacles.” This enabled her to brainstorm how we can get there in a different way, or else set up an action plan to resolve those concerns.

I used some key pointers from PEOPLE: A leader's day-to-day guide to building, managing & sustaining lean organizations. The book explains how to use reflection for engagement by:

1) Building reflection into daily, weekly, monthly, and annual PDCA processes.

...It starts with standard work on my part, but even the planners are seeing the value now of weekly reflections. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going.

2) Using reflection for learning, problem solving, and driving continuous improvement.

3) Using reflection to enable cross-functional collaboration.

...For both of the above, by engaging the planner, it set us up to cross collaborate and to problem solve. More importantly, the individual will feel like he/she is part of the solution to a problem - rather than on the receiving end of a plan they didn’t quite believe in or commit to. Through that practice of engagement and being collaborative in solving the problem, the planner also learned a lot more on how to approach problem solving in the future.

4. Use reflection to better understand the dynamics of your business.

By removing the hurdles, in those 15 minutes the planner had literally provided all the “rocks” that could be resolved in future projects. Those will be a part of future reflection meetings.

5. Reflect to create stories for mentoring young leaders.

I hope that after reading about my experience, more young lean leaders can use reflection in day-to-day tasks; both personally and professionally.

Written by Vimal Patel, Manager of Lean Supply Chain Operations at LeanCor

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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