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Lean Supplier Development improves Quality, Delivery, Cost and Sustainability

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Supplier Development is about empowering front line employees

It is front line employees who make a company successful.  Nike has recently emphasized this in their supplier development initiatives.  According to executives at Nike “the culture of empowerment that is core to making lean really work…requires…management [to] understand that the worker is the closest to the process and to the act of manufacturing and therefore has the greatest insight. And that actually what you need to do is put greater value on the worker and enable the worker to feel empowered, so that they can speak out and speak up and talk about where they can see improvements could happen.”

Not only do front line employees add the key to improving Quality, Delivery and Cost, but also to Sustainability.  Who has a better understanding of how to improve day to day operations that those executing those operations?

In the sphere of Enterprise Development and Supplier Development the process might start with the request for a BBBEE certificate, but this doesn’t change the fact that Quality, Delivery and Cost performance targets remain critical.  The American Society for Quality’s (ASQ) focus on Lean Supplier Development has long ago recognised the holistic supply chain as a strategy for competitive advantage.  The maturity of this approach requires a collective focus on value creation, rather than one link in the chain exerting its importance on the chain.  This places a significant importance on relationship management in the supply chain. (see an example here of how Toyota takes a collaborative approach to procurement and social development)

Collective Value Creation happens on the shop floor in engagements between suppliers and customers and between shop floor workers and their direct supervisors.  It happens in day to day interactions where front line employees are engaged about the value they add to the value chain and are recognised for this value.  Currently many Supplier Development initiatives have a paternalistic focus on developing suppliers according to what the developing organisation believes the needs to be.  This places a significant risk of sustainability on the outcomes of the process.

By following a Lean Supplier Development approach every employee becomes a contributor to the success of the organisation.  Every member of the workforce starts asking how they can contribute to Quality, Cost and Delivery improvement.  Unfortunately many companies view Lean as a Six Sigma Black Belt that does a data dump and provides a smart PowerPoint presentation.  Rather, Lean should be viewed as a transformation initiative that empowers your front line employees with the ability to consistently improve the organisation.

Lean Supplier Development is more than a bootcamp or a training session.  Enabling this approach requires a carefully planned implementation methodology that is sustainable in nature and embeds Lean in the operations.

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