Applying Lean Thinking to Demand and Supply

Lean management is mainly associated with making operations more productive, improving safety, quality, speed and thereby lowering cost. Lean management originated from innovations in the supply chain. More recently, lean thinking has started to be applied to improving the demand side. This includes methods such as Agile development, the Lean startup approach, mapping the customer experience, Lean product development and so forth. Both sides still suffer from perceptions such of Lean as “a manufacturing thing” or Agile as a “software thing”. This gap in understanding can be costly.

Kaizen in Both Demand and Supply

Kaizen efforts release capacity and resources lost from creating defects, doing rework, making obsolete stock or other wasted effort. Even the best lean transformations can’t fully realize their savings without a plan to redeploy resources. In the worst cases, continuous improvement of the supply side gets so far ahead of efforts to increase demand that it leaves resources idle, people the target of cost reduction, and the credibility of the whole endeavor at risk. Lean thinking must be applied to improving demand as well as supply so that there is minimal imbalance.

Such demand-supply imbalances can also come from external shocks. Many businesses have been stung by the rapid declines in customer demand due to COVID. Even organizations dedicated to lean management and advanced in their journeys have been forced to furlough or lay off employees. The organizations that are truly customer-centric, committed to their people and long-term in their thinking horizon may be best suited to ride out the recent crisis.

Pivoting to PPE Production at Kaas Tailored

Kaas Tailored is a 200-person manufacturing company that makes upholstered goods for aerospace and furniture sectors. They are generous in sharing what they have learned from twenty-plus year Lean journey. They do this through workshops, company tours, as well as Lean journey case study video series and podcasts produced by Gemba Academy. Within days after the shutdown order in Washington State, Kaas pivoted from aerospace components and furniture to producing and selling PPE (personal protective equipment) for hospitals.

Kaas started by looking at the world and asking, “What is needed in the world that we can make?” and “Who do we know who needs it?” They partnered with Providence St. Joseph’s Health in the One Million Mask Challenge to provide urgently needed PPE for their healthcare workers. Providence had the demand, Kaas had the capacity to supply. They quickly committed their people to developing processes and standards to deliver quality product on-time. Kaas shares their know-how for other manufacturers to get involved in making PPE.

Without their decades of Lean practice and thinking, I doubt Kaas would have been capable of achieving this feat of keeping their people working in the face of cratering demand. Perhaps they would not even have considered it.

Purchase PPE Made in the U.S.A.

If you need face masks or face shields for personal or professional use, Kaas Tailored will make, sell and deliver them in the U.S.A. with within five days.

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