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Lean Supply Chain Management — The Essentials Part 2

Table of Content


Lean Supply Chain Management

Lean Supply Chain Management 

Being able to understanding and identify waste then requires removing that waste. The initial question then is where and how to begin implementing lean supply chain management.

Three points must be recognized, as follow:

1. First, lean requires a strategy

It is not just a supply chain program or just a manufacturing program. It is a paradigm that requires a change throughout the organization if it is to be truly successful in removing waste and adding value. Organizations must look at everything differently.

2. Second, lean goes beyond the four walls of the warehouse or factory

It goes beyond the organizational boundaries of the company and extends to suppliers and customers. This breadth of scope is why it requires a strategy for success.

3. Third, there are lean principles that must be the basis of the lean supply chain

Namely Determine value from the view of the customer, not the view of the company. Make the product and information flow. Pull product; do not push it. Manage toward perfection with continuous improvement.


Supply chain management, especially developing and implementing lean supply chain management, has challenges that must be acknowledged. These are in addition to the “usual” company issues with lean, such as lack of implementation know-how, resistance to change, lack of a crisis to create urgency, gaining resources and commitment, and back-sliding.

Sometimes these challenges are not addressed or appreciated with lean SCM. These include:

International sourcing

Procuring finished goods or raw materials in China, India, Germany, Brazil, and elsewhere outside of North America creates a significant obstacle to lean. The order-to-delivery time is long. Time is a waste, and it compounds the inventory waste issue by making firms buffer and carries more inventory than is needed to compensate for the time. 

Being lean with a 20-40 day transit time brings a unique test to developing lean SCM accounting

Standard cost accounting and generally accepted accounting does not recognize waste as lean does. Not having the financial support to waste and value identification makes lean difficult to implement and sustain. Inventory and time are not regarded as lean does. Inventory is not an asset for lean. Accounting systems do not recognize time. Rework is not treated the same with accounting. 

Organization silos

Supply chain management and lean are processes that cross organization boundaries. Implementing a process that goes horizontal on a vertical and functionally defined organization creates gaps in both processes. These gaps create areas where waste can develop and where removing it can be difficult. 

Number of firms

There are many suppliers and many logistics service providers in a supply chain. Some of these are visible; some are less visible. Many suppliers or logistics service firms do not practice lean. Taking lean outside the four walls of the company into other firms adds to the time and complexity of implementing and becoming lean.

How to Begin?

The initial step to implementing lean is to evaluate and measure the present supply chain. You have to know where you are to begin the long journey of continuous improvement. Value stream mapping (VSM) is a visual tool to define the current state of a company’s supply chain, identify waste, and lay the foundation in determining the future state flow of the supply chain.

Value stream mapping (VSM) identifies waste in supply chains, especially concerning time and inventory. Initial VSM efforts include defining the present value stream for product families, those that share common operations or have large volume impact, either units or dollars, or another delineator as determined.

With mapping the current supply chain state, you can then draw on the various lean tools to design the future supply chain flow. This future state should include the infrastructure to support its—training, culture, quality methods, accounting systems, and investment policies.

Lean Tools

There are tools to becoming lean. Each has differences as to ease of use, time to implement, benefits, and risk.

5S Method

The 5S’s—Sort, Straighten, Sweep/Shine, Standardize, Sustain/Self-discipline--is a visual way to organize to remove waste with extra time for travel or employees. This tool can be used in distribution centers and offices. 

Rapid setup

Rapid setup or changeover has application in the warehouse to adjust the layout for seasonal products, new products, and changes in what products are fast-moving and often picked and the complementary items that go with these fast-movers. 

Reducing the time can involve housekeeping and maintenance (including 5S), setting up smaller areas for SKUs, technology (such as warehouse management systems and RFID). 


Involves efficient work processes that are repeatedly followed to define the who, what, how, where, and when. This tool helps firms to synchronize the time required to pull and ship all the orders (takt time) and the actual time to do this (cycle time). 

It can be the basis for employee training. Use of this tool can range from warehouses, issuing purchase orders and other office activities. 

Kanban Method

Using kanban presents a new, unique way to view “warehousing” and inventory positioning in the supply chain. . It presents a way to coordinate multi-step processes for multiple products. With kanban, small stocks of inventory are placed in a dedicated location(s) for supply chain control. 

This approach runs counter to the traditional way of large distribution centers delivered truckloads of products to stores or customers. Instead, mini-warehouses” are used to position inventory closer to the end customer and increase the rapidity of delivery and inventory turns. 

Point of sale and other technologies can be the withdrawal signal to trigger both drawing from and replenishing kanbans. Items placed in supply chain kanbans could be limited to the high-value inventory, such as “A” items, and then using the regular warehouse for the B and C items. 

A variation to kanban is with the import supply chains and differentiating A versus B versus C items and using faster mode and faster carrier transit methods for select items. This reduces time and inventory with smaller batch sizes for these select items. All inventories are not treated the same way by suppliers nor with regards to warehousing. 


A work cell is a unit larger than an individual operation but smaller than a department. It is self-contained as to equipment and resources. The potential application is with combining multi-operations into a central area exists where the warehouse does additional activities, such as kitting or assembly.6 sigma. 

This is an advanced tool and ties to quality. The focus is variation and controlling and is preventing errors. Statistical measurement is fundamental. It is used throughout the supply chain, not just in select activities or locations. Six Sigma takes lean supply chain management to its ultimate level.

There is no “one” tool for lean SCM. Various tools can be used in different areas and in different sequences to add value and reduce waste.


Often, there are complementary or supporting processes with lean supply chain management. The additional processes may include Strategic Sourcing to manage supplier performance for critical and important items, Strategic Customer to gain the needed viewpoint of key customers, and Sales and Operations Planning to blend the strategic sourcing and customer with the tactical day-to-day supply chain management.

Getting started with lean and sustaining it with continuous improvement is not easy. Lean takes time, years, to accomplish. There is no quick fix to being lean. Often the waste has become incorporated into the daily operation company-wide and is accepted as part of doing business. 

In some instances, there may be too much instability in a supply chain to begin lean. The first step is then to increase stability before beginning lean.

But the benefits can be significant from gaining market share, reducing capital tied up in inventory, increasing profitability, improving customer service, increasing capacity, and taking time out of the entire company’s way of doing things.

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