Leaning Lean

"My [pharmaceuticals packaging] team used idealized design, together with lean sigma methods, to generate one extra day of sales under patent without increasing cost. We shortened by 65% (from 17 hours to six) the time required to print prescribing information leaflets at launch. This improvement translates to an additional $4 million in sales for each product that has $1 billion in sales at the end of patent life."
- Larry Edzenga, Principal Packaging Scientist -- Major Pharmaceutical Company

Many supply chain organizations engage in lean improvement efforts, but where are the breakthroughs that take them to a new level of performance? In my experience, the way many lean tools are applied almost guarantees merely reproducing or tweaking the status quo. Often teams spend a lot of time analyzing the current state, identifying root causes of problems, and then developing solutions to current problems. But if you fix problems in the current system, don't you only get back to where you were? The problem is that little or no time is spent focusing on what is ultimately wanted -- without regard for what's in place today. That's a major reason there aren't many breakthroughs. Larry Edzenga, a packaging engineer, approached lean differently. First, some background: When the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a medicine, they require changes to the prescribing information leaflet that accompanies the medicine in the box. This necessitates making the changes to the leaflet, approving the changes, getting printing film set up, transporting materials, printing the inserts, and getting them into the packaging.

Larry and the stakeholder group he assembled for this project (including the supplier!) had a goal of significantly reducing the time it takes to get the leaflets printed. The project team very quickly used a few lean sigma tools to map out and measure the existing process and analyze inefficiencies. They made note of the time that each step was taking, and noticed that the biggest time waster was transportation of print films from the existing supplier location to the manufacturing site.

The team then set aside their work on the existing process and used "idealized design". The key feature of idealized design is that stakeholders pretend that their operation, process, facility, product, etc. was destroyed last night and they are starting from scratch and designing what they ideally want today if they could have whatever they want. This approach may seem extreme, but it actually frees people's imaginations. By temporarily setting aside the constraints of today's operations, this allows them to think of more and different solutions

During the idealized design session, they generated many ideas, including specifying that "there would ideally be zero transportation time". The out-of-state supplier they were using for printing had recently acquired a company located much closer to the manufacturing site, and the supplier rep in attendance suggested that they could use that company in the printing process (wasn't it smart of Larry to involve the supplier?!). And, at the manufacturing site, they figured out how to cut even more time. The example above emphasized revenue generation. There are also many examples where companies have used idealized design to cut millions in spend out of their supply chains. Not a bad thing in today's economy.

Jason Magidson

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