Saturday, December 10, 2005

Information Supply Chain Kaizen

Did you ever play this communication game in school or maybe at some training session? The game is where one person whispers a message in another person's ear then that person passes it on to the next person. This message continues to be passed one by one until it reaches the last person. The last person would say out loud the message which turns out to be very different from the original message. Hearing the final version of the message is usually humorous, entertaining and unnerving for the group. It is amazing how a simple message becomes radically altered as it gets passed through the chain.

Even though it is just a game, it does reflects the real challenges that businesses face in their information supply chain. When the term supply chain is used in business, we normally think of material flow. Material is passed on from supplier to supplier in what becomes a linked chain. Information can follow a similar path, from person to person in a linked supply chain. This information supply chain, like any other process in manufacturing, can be and should be an area for kaizen.

Many businesses on their lean journey have started with value stream mapping of their current state and go on to create their future state. In their value stream map, the operational process flow is detailed including inventory levels at each step. Beyond just the material flow, properly created value stream maps will include the flow of information.

Accurate and timely information is critical to the success of all businesses. All our decisions are based on the quality of our information. Ignoring the information supply chain can quickly erode any improvement gains in the physical processes. How many physical processes are improved but end up waiting on the information supply chain to catch up? I wonder if GM or Delphi in their lean activities ever looked at their information supply chain?

The same goes for working in a project environment where information is a primary driver of the activities within team. By improving the flow of information, many wastes can be eliminated and the timeline from project start to finish can be shortened. How many times have you worked on a project where team members or management did not keep pace with current events and valuable time was spent on getting everybody back up to speed?

Bottom line, information flow is critical in business yet not usually considered an area for kaizen. I consider it a hidden area of opportunity that when improved will create dramatic results for your business. Just like in the communication game, information passed through your organization can be radically altered. By applying the principles of Kaizen to your information supply chain, your information will be more accurate and timely.

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