It’s no mystery that time is of the essence when it comes to transportation and logistics in the food industry. With food having a limited shelf life and the growing demand for organic, fresher, farm-to-table foods, the concept of speeding products to shelf has become more critical than ever. Knowing how to reduce lead time and cycle time without sacrificing quality can make all the difference between making a sale and losing one. This strategic focus also includes achieving lower costs and better customer service, as well as freeing up space and cash to reinvest for future growth. And, while such an undertaking may seem daunting to many, the reality is that these goals are completely attainable when LEAN methodologies are carefully thought out and implemented.

When creating a LEAN culture, it’s important to focus on three main areas:

Ensure employees, frontline leadership’s voices are heard. First and foremost, you want to ensure that the right people get involved in the process. In a LEAN environment, the best ideas will always come from the people who do the work. They’re the ones who see and experience the issues firsthand. Employees and frontline leadership are experts at identifying the problem areas and coming up with solutions that can then be communicated to customers. When creating a true LEAN culture, you are transforming the way your people think and behave. The LEAN focus on removing waste creates a learning environment for everyone, which increases employee morale and generates better performance. Accountability is also an innate part of the process, as it calls for the implementation of performance metrics around items such as inbound and outbound productivities in the warehouse, on-time shipments, inventory accuracy and material handling damage.

Implement the transformation process. Transformation requires the use of multiple tools working in unison. These tools form a process that becomes part of the overall system, which links back to the company strategy and performance metrics. Value stream maps (VSM) and LEAN assessments, for instance, help identify key areas of opportunity that align with an organization’s strategic direction. A VSM is a high-level visual representation of all of the process steps required to bring a product from raw material to the customer. It communicates the current state of the operation and a shared vision of the future state of the value stream, utilizing a standard process and a common set of metrics, symbols and terms. The transformation plan and VSM serve as a strategic tools to help identify, prioritize and communicate continuous improvement activities. An integral part of the transformation process also includes consistent progress tracking, which can be achieved by conducting weekly and monthly reviews.

Develop a playbook that emphasizes daily management. Once you’ve gathered, evaluated and analyzed the results from your transformation plan, you can start to develop a playbook to follow based on those results. This playbook lays out a set of common methods and procedures that should be adhered to, which leads to stability and standardization across the operation, ensuring continuous improvement. By embracing a management system that relies on standard work, visuals and accountability practices, you establish a culture that places a premium on improving the customer experience.

In short, if you’re looking to take your supply chain performance to the next level but aren’t sure where to begin, outsourcing may just be the answer. A reliable third-party logistics company takes a holistic approach to analyzing your company’s supply chain operation and identifies ways to weed out waste by leveraging its resources and deep engineering and LEAN expertise. This can prove valuable in helping attain your goals of reducing lead time and cycle time without sacrificing quality.