Lean Logistics and Material Flow: The Importance of Continuous Improvement

By: David Sherman, CTL. Manager, Lean Supply Chain Operations

Lean logistics aims to reduce inventory levels and create flow within supply chain networks. For supply chains looking to obtain one-piece flow lean logistics processes must be in alignment with purchasing and inventory strategies among other processes within a firm or supply chain network. Non-value added items should be removed from these processes to ensure there are optimal opportunities for flow through these improvements. There are several steps that can be taken to begin these realizations between processes.

Strategic DirectionLean Logistics and Material Flow

In order for a firm to gain traction in their lean logistics and material flow journey, there must be support from the executive level to the associate level. Each function and team member within the firm should be aligned on the same goal. Each of their respective tactical items to reach that goal will differ but it is paramount that their work is clearly defined and supports the vision of the supply chain as a whole. Each separate component and function within the firm cannot successfully implement their lean logistics plan without cooperation and collaboration at the appropriate (all) levels. The lean logistics and material flow program direction is not just a several month project, but an on-going multi year cultural and thinking shift. This must be especially embraced by upper management and as the work flows down through the teams and functions of the organization of the firm.

Lean Logistics Journey

As firms begin their lean journey it is paramount to align all processes within the logistics function. It is not enough to just reduce waste in one area (for example receiving) while the warehousing strategy and outbound strategies do not align. This type of misalignment will result in uneven work flows and potentially even more wastes. The logistics network (inbound material to customer) must be aligned with the same process pace to ensure a level flow in the entire network. A total systems approach must be taken to obtain level material flow within a lean logistics strategy. This is to ensure each member of the system (warehousing, transportation, and inventory strategy) is moving toward the same goal simultaneously. Without this direction, processes will continue to break down and waste will build if not monitored.

The Outcomes

As processes are continuously refined and improved and the material flow begins to become quicker, several items will take shape. First time quality will be better as processes are more aligned and determinant on the voice of the customer. Inventory levels will reduce throughout the firm as lead time is reduced (shipping and process lead times) overall. This is due to the fact that shorter lead times require less inventory levels to be effective. In reducing inventory, other problems will be visible and can be solved pro-actively. The overall noise of the supply chain is reduced through lean logistics and material flow initiatives. As processes tend to break down inherently, it is important that these be revisited and revised often through a PDCA cycle.


What roadblocks does your firm have in the implementation and/or planning phase of the lean logistics and material flow cultural shift initiative?

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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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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