Using Six Sigma for Supply Chain Management During COVID-19

Every industry in the world has seen unprecedented impacts from the COVID-19 virus. From small businesses to major corporations, there isn’t a sector that hasn’t been affected. Supply chain management (SCM) is among the top industries that have seen the grave realities of this pandemic

In the wake of social distancing policies, some supply chains have come to a halt. For those who didn’t experience total shutdowns, telework hindered any significant progress, especially for those industries supplying goods to our most vulnerable and needed assets—healthcare workers. For these companies, supply chain management personnel suddenly felt the full weight of the world’s expectations to produce essential goods. 

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COVID-19 Impact on Supply Chain Management

Companies that prioritize low cost over flexibility in their process management will quickly realize their inability to respond to fluctuating demands. Some industries, such as paper companies in charge of supplying toilet paper, found themselves in a dire situation as demand skyrocketed—toilet paper shelves were often empty in many urban and suburban markets. Those who had worked exclusively with foreign suppliers were suddenly out of material to work with, as the companies in other countries had been shut down. 

Supply chains have seen an increased need for communication, more sophisticated ways to track important details, and intelligent visual progress technology. They see a need for local vendors at reasonable prices and supply chain development that focuses on assessing risk and waste as opposed to general output. 

The players inside the supply chain have always struggled with effective coordination. Now, they’re faced with the reality of innovating new ways to communicate progress to other stakeholders in the supply chain, even beyond their current challenges. What once felt small and manageable from a design perspective, now feels uncertain. The supply chain is vast, including players from every level of production:

  • Product designers and engineers
  • Suppliers and vendors
  • Manufacturers
  • Shipping and distribution centers
  • Retailers

Above all, the consumer and their demand now need to be addressed using a ‘pandemic’ lens. 

Before COVID-19 hit the world, it was already a challenge for SCM and process management professionals to adjust to the world’s digital transformation. Many companies were still working towards automating systems and creating digital resources to streamline processes. Now, during the pandemic, it has become even more imperative for supply chain companies to find creative ways to lean out their processes. 

Leveraging Lean Six Sigma to Control Chaos

Amid the pandemic, Lean Six Sigma can provide a wealth of knowledge, tools, and strategies to streamline critical processes and address fluctuating supply and demand conundrums. 

Just-In-Time Manufacturing

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, people are calling for increased stockpiles for various products. However, with increases in stock comes a higher cost, potential waste, and potential production issues, which leaves large quantities of damaged or defective products sitting in a warehouse. 

Just-in-time manufacturing seeks to minimize waste and stockpiles of excess products by only producing that which meets the current demand. The largest benefit to just-in-time manufacturing is how it enables companies to quickly recognize and correct any potential issues to minimize future risk to production.  

Address Waste With 5s

When it comes to process management, work environments that are clean, organized, and safe will be key to identifying and addressing excess waste issues. 5S (standing for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain) is an effective method to eliminate waste from a work environment. When tools, materials, and equipment are accessible and organized logically, the odds of human error dwindle. 

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Visual Management

One of the most difficult aspects of navigating the ‘new normal’ of this pandemic world is the sudden push toward remote work. Without being able to interact with colleagues personally, it’s easy to fall behind on projects, especially when there is a communication lag. 

While visual management typically manifests itself in the form of community Kanban boards or floor markings, virtual options are also available. Visual management offers effective solutions to make progress visible for all aspects of supply chain management. Providing visibility across the company, especially to key stakeholders, is critical for identifying problems and promoting progress. 

Continuous Process Improvement 

As restrictions continue to ebb and flow, companies feel pressure to navigate the quickly changing circumstances. These are the companies that likely don’t have a continuous process improvement mindset. 

First, continuous improvement posits that everything is a learning experience. Just as much, if not more, can be learned from failures as successes. Secondly, it encourages process management professionals to focus on identifying the next best improvement. This takes the pressure off folks in supply chain management roles to come up with the ultimate solution to every problem and encourages them to focus on the one thing they can improve right now. Once an improvement has been successfully implemented, they simply repeat the process.  

Six Sigma Certification 

Of course, a Six Sigma certification is an excellent way to learn lean strategies quickly and effectively. The problem-solving techniques and quality control tactics learned in a Six Sigma Certification program can provide profound changes to an organization’s overall functioning, making them more productive and profitable. 

Why Adopt Six Sigma? 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Six Sigma professionals were making significant impacts in their respective industries. Process standardization is the future for supply chain management, making folks with Six Sigma certifications a decidedly sought-after group of professionals. In both our current and the post-pandemic world, a highly streamlined digital infrastructure will become essential, and professionals with Lean Six Sigma knowledge will lead the way. 

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Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

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