Lean, QRM or DDMRP after all?

Over the last decades we have witnessed the arrival of a large variety of new process improvement methodologies and philosophies. For many years our options were limited to MRP, LEAN and TOC, but these have been augmented by TPM, TQM, WCM and Six Sigma and now we can even choose QRM and DDMRP. Even better, we also have RFS, sDBR, CCPM, ESP, Agile-, Demand Driven -, Synchronized-  and Responsive Supply Chain. The number of methodologies and philosophies is obviously limitless. But what is the right choice for your specific situation?

In case you intend to rely on the success stories of leaders and followers of certain methodologies, you will undoubtedly learn about bright futures with short lead times, high efficiencies and low inventories. Unfortunately, in practice these successes do not always materialise.

On a regular basis I visit companies that started ambitious projects based on one or more of the methodologies listed above, only to discover that despite initial and positive results, the targeted and serious successes were never achieved. E.g. I recently talked to a customer who had made good progress by applying LEAN in production, but who had failed to achieve good results with the same philosophy for the Engineering phase. The obvious question is why? Why do so many promising improvement initiatives end up in the bottomless pit of good intentions?

Strongest connection

You may be familiar with the well-known TEDx “Start with Why”, in which Simon Sinek convincingly shows how leading companies distinguish themselves from the masses by always starting their thinking with why instead of how and what. Because why makes the strongest connection between requirements and propositions.

Inspired by Simon Sinek’s ideas I questioned myself whether his advice to “Start with Why” would also apply to improvement methodologies and philosophies. While skimming through a few of the improvement initiatives known to me, it appeared to me that the less successful ones can be characterized by a focus on local objectives such as ‘10% inventory reduction’ and ‘95% service level’ and the absence of a why-based change vision. All hope seemed drawn to the elected improvement methodology, not seldom being elevated to a goal in itself.

Do It Yourself

Successful improvement initiatives are characterized by a why-based change vision with a focus on addressing the limiting factor. The how, often a combination of tools from various improvement methodologies and a bit of change vision inspired homecrafts, appeared to be nothing more than a means to achieve the what.

Well-known examples are Zara and Apple. But I also think of less known game changers such as a beds manufacturer, a machines manufacturer, a manufacturer of off set plates and a manufacturer of installation systems. Piece by piece shining examples of ‘Start with why’.


My conclusion, based on this, I admit, all but scientific research, is that also when it concerns choosing your improvement methodology the advice is to ‘start with why’. Moreover, if you ‘start with why’ and manage to truly understand the forces you have to master to realize your why, experience shows that you don’t even have to choose for any one improvement methodology, since by then the toolboxes of all improvement methodologies will suddenly open itself up to you. And if there is nothing to your liking, you may as well develop a solution yourself. Often surprisingly simple once your limiting factor is known.

So if you are confronted with a question similar to “LEAN, QRM or DDMRP after all?”, then be cautious. Starting with what and how is a recipe for disappointment. Before answering how, you better first ask why. So do “Start with Why”! Also if it concerns choosing your improvement methodology.

Alex Tjalsma, partner/consultant Involvation