Controlling the Control Systems

Taming the enemy of supply chain performance


Employees were encouraged to take ownership of their equipment and recommend performance improvements, and a "quality week" was held during which non value-adding controls were eliminated. Processes on the factory floor and throughout the back office were evaluated and reconsidered, and Lean tools, which focus on process optimization, were utilized as relevant. In the end, extensive “waste” control systems were eliminated, throughput was increased, and customer and employee satisfaction both jumped dramatically.

Next steps

Most companies are hampered by excessive control systems without even realizing it. So where can you start the process of assessing how to reduce or eliminate the ones that are sabotaging your supply chain? Here are four key areas to focus your thinking:

  • Trust. Establishing an environment of trust with your employees starts with thinking about your employees as if they were customers.
  • Empowerment. Your employees are on the front line of your business. Solicit their opinions and empower them to make decisions, especially when it comes to customer and vendor relationships.
  • Measurement. The responsiveness of your overall network is a key metric. Measures like cycle time performance and customer on-time deliveries are ultimately better measures of success than how one employee performs relative to another employee.
  • Information. Become information-integrated with all members of the supply chain, right down to your suppliers' suppliers.

Remember: most control systems don’t eliminate problems, they just move them. Control systems are not the root of all evil, but sometimes they come pretty close. A more positive approach—a trust-based model with a customer-focused purpose—will increase efficiency as well as customer and employee satisfaction.

Brian Nolf is global supply chain management practice head for Wipro Consulting Services. He is based in London. Gerhard Plenert has written extensively about supply chain strategy, most recently as co-author of Driving Strategy to Execution Using Lean Six Sigma (CRC Press, 2012). He is based in Sacramento, Calif.

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