When you hear about Lean Six Sigma, long and complex projects probably come to your mind. But this does not need to be the case. Focus on ‘quick wins’ and combine it with Agile methodologies, and I ensure you will achieve visible results in just two months. This is the success story of a logistics company we helped with this approach.
In 2019, a Latin American logistics company that provided customized delivery services and handled a large volume of imported goods contacted us with a specific problem.
The company had gone through a rapid expansion recently and needed help keeping up with the demands. Trucks were spending more and more time at the plant and, as a result, they were experiencing a significant loss of productivity and an increase in customers´ complaints. They needed to understand what was going on.
This was their first experience in an improvement project and did not know where to start. And of course, they lacked time to find a solution.
Aiming to achieve both effective and agile improvements, we proposed an approach that combined Lean Six Sigma and Agile methodologies. Additionaly, we would address resistances and work on developing a rapid acceptance of the change with Change Management techniques.
We designed the Canvas of the project to visually put every element in place, and established the ´how´. For starters:
- We defined the team: It consisted of the Operations Manager as sponsor, and peaople from operations, quality control and sales areas. We trained the ten-people team in different tools as the needs arose.
- We established Agile routines: The daily progress meetings, of just 20 minutes duration, were held in front of a board, on our feet, and with the active participation of the sponsor. This technique allowed us to easily follow the progress of the project and act quickly when faced with difficulties. Digital Kanban boards were also used to share progress with the team.
- We defined short cycles or sprints: Initially, we carried out a sprint of context analysis and another one of diagnosis. Then, based on each identified cause or waste, we advanced in a sprint for each search for improvement.
Sprint 1: Context Analysis
Next, we mapped the process in order to understand it in its context, working with SIPOC techniques, flow diagrams, and Value Stream Maps, which were applied with a waterfall approach.
The requirements of external and internal customers showed a clear coincidence. They all agreed on the need to reduce truck wait times in order to increase productivity.
A primary objective and a secondary objective were therefore defined:
- Primary objective: Reduce the time of trucks in the plant by 50% (from 12 to 6 hours) in two months.
- Secondary objective: Do not lose quality in the process.
Sprint 2: Diagnosis
With the KPI “truck wait time in the plant” as our main indicator, we carried out a mapping of the process in which we analyzed:
- Its stability: Dwell values were found that needed to be reviewed.
- Its segments: We segmented by days of the week, by shifts, by customers, and by type of orders.
This analysis revealed inconsistencies in the timing measurement method, resolved with a new automated measurement system.
Also, the Value Stream Map helped quickly detect downtimes that had an impact on the total delay time of trucks.
To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered that out of an average of 12-hour stay, only 4 hours were for value-adding tasks. The rest of the time was lost between waiting, duplicate checks, errors and various delays. The opportunities for improvement were clear.
Statistical analysis performed with Engine Room
Sprint 3: Quick wins
For each waste that was identified, we searched for a quick win – an opportunity for a rapid improvement with high impact. Each improvement was tested and validated.
Finally, it was decided to move forward with the following quick wins:
- Eliminate duplication of controls: A pilot test showed that virtually no errors were found in the second control and that by eliminating this instance, time was improved by 50%. The controller was trained in picking, as for now on he was the only person responsible for control, and change management was applied to ensure his commitment to redefining his role.
- Modify the control report: The control report, which was prepared during the truck stay at the plant, had a strong impact on the total waiting time. It was decided to replace it with a statement accompanying the load and the report was sent afterwards to the client the day the truck was dispatched.
- Transition from preventive maintenance to autonomous maintenance: Some drivers were trained to perform predictive maintenance tasks and autonomous maintenance actions while they were waiting in the parking lot. The test showed a significant time reduction and the improvement was incorporated into the process.
- Reorganize the entrance of the trucks to the plant: The verification was no longer carried out inside the plant, but in a pre-entry process. Its effectiveness was validated by measuring the time before and after implementation. This later led to the development of an application to further improve the process.
In just two months the results were visible:
- The objective of time reduction in the plant was exceeded and this was achieved in a shorter period than the established one.
- Working on validated sprints with the available numerical tools set the path for other potential improvements, which were carried out once the initial objective was completed.
- There was a positive impact on stakeholders. A survey in the Operations area confirmed a strong satisfaction with the change.
- Good practices, such as the daily meeting routines, were incorporated for the general operation.
- The success of the project was so resounding that the methodology was installed in the organization, giving rise to a second wave of improvement projects.
Focusing on quick wins enables fast and high-impact results to be achieved but, above all, it contributes to creating a culture of systematic process improvement. Seeing that the effort was worth it is highly motivating and this has an immediate well-being effect in the work environment.
So, if you want to bring real improvement to your organization, achieving the desired results of a project in the shortest time possible is not enough. You need to standardize those processes and maintain key practices to make those quick wins sustainable over time, and be the first of many improvement cycles.
Author: Maia Galíndez