Lean, QRM or DDMRP after all?

Alex Tjalsma 250x250pxby Alex Tjalsma

Over the last decades we have witnessed the arrival of a large variety of new process improvement methodologies and philosophies. For many years our options were limited to MRP, LEAN and TOC, but these have been augmented by TPM, TQM, WCM and Six Sigma and now we can even choose QRM and DDMRP. Even better, we also have RFS, sDBR, CCPM, ESP, Agile-, Demand Driven -, Synchronized- and Responsive Supply Chain. And what do you think about CPFR, VMI, APS, S&OP and IBP? The number of methodologies and philosophies is obviously limitless. But what is the right choice for your specific situation?

In case you intend to rely on the success stories of leaders and followers of certain methodologies, you will undoubtedly learn about bright futures with short lead times, high efficiencies and low inventories. Unfortunately, in practice these successes do not always materialise.

On a regular basis I visit companies that started ambitious projects based on one or more of the methodologies listed above, only to discover that despite initial and positive results, the targeted and serious successes were never achieved. E.g. I recently talked to a customer who had made good progress by applying LEAN in production, but who had failed to achieve good results with the same philosophy for the Engineering phase. The obvious question is why? Why do so many promising improvement initiatives end up in the bottomless pit of good intentions?

You may be familiar with the well-known TEDx “Start with Why”, in which Simon Sinek convincingly shows how leading companies distinguish themselves from the masses by always starting their thinking with “why” instead of “how and what”. Because “why” makes the strongest connection between requirements and propositions. Apple is a brilliant example.

Inspired by Simon Sinek’s ideas, I decided to scan through a long list of gone-wrong improvement initiatives that I happened to know about. What occurred to me was that in the vast majority of these cases, the selection of the improvement methodologies had been based on “what”. What do we have to deliver? Shorter lead times, higher efficiencies, less inventories,… How will we realise this? By using MRP, CPM, LEAN, QRM, … The “why”-question was never asked. Why do we get out of bed in the morning? What is our bright spot on the horizon? Nor did we ask why we had failed to reach this point already. What forces are stopping us from being successful? And what forces therefore will have to be conquered in order to reach our ambitions?

In his bestseller “The fifth discipline”, Peter Senge states that “to change the behaviour of a system, we must identify and change the limiting factor”. In other words: before you dare to ask how?, you first have to answer why? Or like Sinek would say: “start with why”.

Experience shows that by starting with why, we will often find that only minor adjustments are required to achieve major changes. Like a butterfly in China can cause a hurricane in New York, so can subtle changes in one or several operating principles drive fundamental changes in the entire supply chain. These adjustments may often not be so obvious in advance. In virtually all cases, paradigm shifts will be required.

This may sound tough and complicated. Experience shows though that if we choose this route and are able to stick to it, unprecedented energy, involvement and inspiration will arise, thereby creating a fantastic feeding ground for fundamental improvements. An additional advantage will be that when we start with why, the entire toolbox of improvement methodologies will suddenly open itself up to us. And if there is nothing to your liking, you may as well develop a methodology yourself. Often surprisingly simple once the why is known.

So if you are confronted with a question similar to “LEAN, QRM or DDMRP after all?”, then be careful. Starting with what is a recipe for disappointment. Before answering how, you better start with identifying the limiting factor. “Start with Why”!

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change
Charles Darwin