The Skinny on Lean

The Skinny on Lean [the broken link was removed] by Peter Bradley

The pursuit of perfection and obsessive attention to detail that characterize Toyota’s lean model are reflected in Menlo Worldwide’s 278,000-square-foot Brownstown facility, known as the Great Lakes Lean Logistics Center (GLLLC). Look around, and you’ll notice process maps on the wall of a room off the main warehouse. You’ll see taped outlines on the floor and walls to indicate the precise location of every cart, every tool, every barrel—often with photos showing what goes where. While leading a tour of the facility, Meaghan Diem, a Menlo Worldwide logistics manager, nudges a barrel back between its taped lines. “Some people think this is organization overkill,” she says, “but it makes it almost impossible not to make it right.”

Though it encourages employees to offer ideas on an impromptu basis, Menlo Worldwide also solicits suggestions through a more formal process: its continuous improvement program. On a regular basis, the company assembles kaizen teams—teams formed to root out waste and inefficiency. Rivera reports that employees at every level participate in these teams, which may also include an engineer and a customer. The teams spend three to five days collecting data, identifying targets—called SMART targets—and preparing an implementation plan. Consistent with the Toyota protocol, their plan must fit on a single sheet of A3 paper. (That’s an international standard for paper about 11.7 by 16.5 inches, or more precisely, 297 by 420 millimeters.)

The lean program’s results speak for themselves. Menlo Worldwide reports that warehouse productivity improved 32 percent between January and November last year, measured by gains in lines per hour. Defects, measured as the error rate, dropped by a whopping 44 percent. The on-time percentage for shipments was north of 99 percent in every one of those months, hitting 100 percent in eight of 11 months.

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