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​Designing and Managing a Lean Supply Chain with the Shingo Model

Posted by Joel Holt

Most companies develop a program around continuous improvement, which means they use tools - and the ongoing development of those tools - as a mainstay. While this is an excellent start, it lacks an important cultural aspect; any corporate endeavor needs that aspect to take root and grow. Without enterprise-wide alignment, even the most ambitious continuous improvement plans run the risk of falling flat.

At Kenco, one of the ways we've ensured cultural harmony with continuous improvement is by embracing the Shingo model. This holistic approach is based on guiding principles and requires more than just tools to implement. It also requires cultural transformation, anchoring current initiatives, and filling in gaps toward ideal results and enterprise excellence.


The Shingo Model: Broken Down

These guiding principles are presented in a pyramid format, with individuals needing to achieve the ideas of "base layers" to reach higher ones.

At the bottom of the pyramid, supporting the upper layers, are the basics that set up and enable a culture of success through mutual respect. These concepts are those of Cultural Enablers and are:

  • Respect Every Individual
  • Lead with Humility

Once the base is mastered, those Cultural Enablers are ready to focus on Continuous Improvement by committing to:

  • Seek Perfection
  • Embrace Scientific Thinking
  • Focus on Process
  • Assure Quality at the Source
  • Flow and Pull Value

Moving upwards through Enterprise Alignment, individuals are tasked with more difficult - and vital - goals:

  • Think Systematically
  • Create Constancy of Purpose

When properly infused into a company's culture, the Result is a simple and praiseworthy one:

  • Create Value for the Customer

Once this pyramid-styled system of guidance and expectations has been formally outlined, it's time to mobilize the individuals that will turn it from a concept into a functioning part of your company.

Creating Cultural Enablers

It's not enough to simply issue edicts and dole out praise and punishment; those in management positions must always remember they're as much a part of the team as those who report to them. This encompasses humility and encourages respect for staff members in every position. In practice, checks and balances like on-site behavior assessments help us spot leaders who are committed to their base-level Shingo concepts.

These individuals practice behaviors such as participating in suggestions and ascribing to tiered accountability - doing - rather than simply telling. The presence of these individuals tells us if we're hitting the mark on supporting and creating cultural enablers. Without them, we lack visibility through each position and the power of collaborative expertise.

Driving Continuous Improvement

This stage of the pyramid shares traits common to the most successful logistics companies in the industry - it's part of the reason it resonates so well with us at Kenco. We encourage our entire staff to flow and pull value through natural excellence, rather than focusing on a "push" method that consumes a great deal more effort and contributes to burnout, inefficiency, and frustration.

By ensuring the output of every stage is as proficient as possible, stress and pressure are removed from each proceeding stage, and there is more discussion and workspace for scientific thinking on additional ways to improve the entirety of our workflow process.

This set of behaviors builds on cultural enablers, reminding them to work towards quality at the source via proactive checks. Transform each associate into a separate mirror reflecting the overall process - if they see something "wrong," they should say something at the moment so it can be adjusted and used to prevent future errors.

This stage is all about eliminating the "work around" mindset - emphasizing there's no such thing as "someone else's problem" in a system that values accountability and teamwork. In our company, we also strive to make explanations a standard part of any workflow - we feel to properly respect and involve each associate, they need to be made aware of the "big picture,"

Enabling Enterprise Alignment

Once the pyramid is nearly scaled, the idea of a constancy of purpose is instilled company-wide. With systematic thinking on our side, we're able to move workflows almost seamlessly through a vast network of sites. To keep customers reliably satisfied, those sites need to work together in predictable, systematic approaches to keep backlogs and overflows from rippling across the requisite supply and demand chains. Even with this focus on consistency, however, room must be made for individual site variations without setting the entire effort off-track.

For example, the needs of a client who manufactures or distributes edibles, such as cereal, are very different from those of a pharmaceutical client. While the former may rely more heavily on real-time information like label creation and proof of delivery, the latter demands traceability and data retention for viability - and liability's - sake.

Enterprise alignment allows us to meet these two disparate needs with equal efficiency, no matter which of our sites the demand may fall on.

And Finally, Results

There's a reason this concept rests at the pinnacle of the pyramid - creating value for the customer is the goal that keeps successful companies in business. Without a comprehensive focus on this outcome, you may get spotty satisfaction ratings and reviews - and those will translate into equally-spotty future orders.

Unfortunately, there is no "silver bullet" that will make achieving the summit a surefire success. Just as popular organizational models like Six Sigma provide a framework and guideline but don't necessarily do the work for you, you'll need to incorporate and understand the why, how and what you're doing with it to really get the results you want.

Logistics + Shingo Model = Lean

The Shingo model is much more than a tool - it's a cultural transformation that shows in every aspect of a business when it's properly implemented. Most visibly, it's a dedication to excellence in customer-facing tasks, but it's also a dedication of an organization's members to one another: a reminder that true, accountable teamwork is necessary for any achievement.

The tiers of the Shingo pyramid naturally gravitate towards lean operation, reducing waste and ensuring that each individual is not only accountable for themselves but for the work they produce and the company they represent through their actions.

So How Do I Implement the Shingo Model? [Use Case]

A word of caution: you might have an uphill battle to begin with; selling the Shingo model to leadership means combating entrenched ideas, and that typically brings some pushback along with it. The key is engaging leadership, and getting a buy-in for the first two tiers to reach the summit of the pyramid.designing-and-managing-a-lean-supply-chain-with-the-shingo-model.jpg

At Kenco, we've fortunately had great overall success with introducing the model within our company and to our clients; but it's not to say it wasn't hard work at some points. For one instance, in particular, we began with a baseline KOS (Kenco Operating System) assessment and scheduled a meeting with that company's leadership. While we approached the discussion with enthusiasm and motivation, we were met with flat rejection and a lot of conflict.

Having experienced this pushback before, we didn't let that obstacle put the brakes on our momentum: instead, we introduced the system tool by tool, slowly. This allowed us to push past the leadership's inherent skepticism of the Shingo system and demonstrate how well it worked.

While it took some time, we're proud to say today their facilities are saving a great deal of money and enjoying incredible teamwork, accountability, and positive results from their eventual full Shingo implementation.

This experience is one of the many examples of the benefits the Shingo model offers to supply chain structure. When the tiers of the pyramid are embraced from the top of the company on down, the transition to continuous improvement goes smoothly.

Associates feel they have a voice
and appreciate the trust that comes with accountability, communication is improved, and tactical objectives are grounded in real staff-illuminated findings year-round, rather than speculative or reactive ones.

To Sum It All Up

At Kenco, we call ourselves a "pennies business" because our avid use of the Shingo model translates to excellent cost savings for our clients. When your employees truly care about what they're doing for your company, as ours do, perfection becomes an attainable goal at each stage of your workflow, rather than a vague concept without achievable roots.

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Joel Holt

Written by Joel Holt

Joel Holt is the Director of Continuous Improvement at Kenco. Joel oversees the Continuous Improvement team and is responsible for designing, leading and fostering a culture that embraces continuous improvement and positive change to support all of the Kenco Operating companies.


We'd like to hear about your supply chain and discuss ways Kenco can help address your business needs.

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Kenco provides integrated logistics solutions that include distribution and fulfillment, comprehensive transportation management, material handling services, real estate management, and information technology—all engineered for Operational Excellence.