THINKING LEAN – JOTTINGS FROM A GREEK ISLAND

Greek island

Thinking Lean is something I do all the time; it comes with the territory.

In these difficult times I was thinking back and recalling a break I took in the Greek islands a few years ago when I was lucky enough to be in a small Greek village on the north east coast of Corfu.

This place was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Manufacturing or the rigorous demands of FMCG. A laid-back place with just 5 tavernas, 2 waterside cafes and a couple of small shops. Not the sort of place you would expect to find good examples of lean processes or practices, however this started me thinking. Could I find any?

Not too surprisingly I found plenty and why wouldn’t there be. This village revolved around tourism, talking to the locals at the time, they experience huge swings in tourist volumes and demographic mix throughout the year. They had variation in external factors like the weather and economic factors. Even news articles reporting on the influx of refugees Greece had been experiencing had a direct impact on the locals.

In many ways this village was exactly like any manufacturing operation or any other type of business. So, a perfect place to dig in and look for examples of the locals thinking lean.

The story of my Greek Sunday roast

Yes, you heard right. A fantastic Sunday roast, whilst overlooking the cooling waters of the Mediterranean. But what could this possibly do with thinking lean?

Walking through the small village on a Sunday morning, suddenly the owner of a very nice taverna suddenly approached me and shook my hand. This was not so unusual, after all it is a small village that I have visited a number of times. ‘Come on in my friend and I will buy you a drink’. Of course, we accepted and as we walked in a sat down, he said ‘let me fetch the drinks and then we can talk business’

Business, on a Sunday morning?

He came back, and sat down.

‘Now my friend, I have been very busy this morning. I have been into the mountains and collected some very nice lamb. So today we are cooking fresh slow roasted lamb using a traditional recipe that my mother used to use with herbs, spices and roasted potatoes. But I am only offering this to my very best customers’

Bit of a wild tale, going into the mountains, mothers’ recipe etc. but this got me thinking. What is this guy actually doing? Is it just another sales pitch? Or is he thinking a little deeper, he was putting a lot of effort into selling this story. Clearly, he was going to use this technique throughout the day on a number of different people.

So, let’s look at this from the perspective of the taverna owner.

Local slow cooked Lamb is a well-known Greek dish but for him as the owner it also presents some problems to put on the menu. It is a ‘long lead-time’ item. It takes hours to prepare and cook. The raw materials are very expensive, so if he does not sell it, his scrap cost could offset any profit. His customer base is variable. What time they eat, what they eat and even where they eat is based on a whole series of external factors he can’t control.

I chatted to him about this for a while and it became clear that what he was actually doing was a scaled down version of S&OP planning. Without knowing it he was thinking lean.

He recognised that he needed to align his sales, production and material ordering to maximise his profits. He knew that if he left it until the customers were at the point of actually ordering, he had less chance of influencing the type of main course that the customer would order.

One of the other side benefits he explained to me was that because his target was primarily to sell the Lamb dish that evening, orders for other menu items would be reduced. This allowed him to run with less people in the kitchen that night and give some of the staff the night off. Again, he was thinking lean by using the S&OP process to plan his staffing.

Without formal training he and all of his staff were thinking Lean. The taverna owner had set very clear targets, all his staff understood the objective and the reasoning. They worked together as one unit to deliver. They were a team.

Many organisations could learn from this very simple example. S&OP planning requires top level targets to be set and all department s to align. All too often I see departments without alignment. I see different departments with completely different metrics. Metrics drive behaviour. If you measure the sales department by total value of sales, this does not always align with the process capability of the manufacturing process. Both need to be working in unison, just like my Friendly Greek taverna owner.

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