QRM Values, Principles and Tools
Quick Response Manufacturing is a company-wide approach. It affects all aspects of doing business, both with suppliers and customers as well as internally: production, engineering, administration, sales, marketing, maintenance, et cetera.
Quick Response Manufacturing offers a set of values, principles and tools.
In the end, customers define what value a company offers and whether it is worth to acquire. Traditionally, customers were thought of being mainly interested in the physical characteristics and the price of the product. However, this price/quality combination totally ignores the time dimension of the service provided.
The most important value of Quick Response Manufacturing is therefore to include the time-dimension in the value proposition to the customer.
However, the values of QRM not only concern the products that flow to the customer, but also the flow of the organization itself towards a more competitive positioning in the market.
Organizations should become more responsive. Responsive to the demands of the market, to opportunities that arise, and to changes in the available resources.
Hence the two main values of Quick Response Manufacturing: “be quick”, and “be responsive”.
Principles of Quick Response Manufacturing help to realize the achievement of the main values. These principles are important guidelines that should be translated to the specific context of a company. The three most important are:
- Use Quick Response Cells
- Take a System Dynamics Perspective
- Include supply chain partners
Use Quick Response Cells
The principle of using cells in the organization of processes is at the heart of facilitating a quick response. Cells consist of teams of employees. These teams are responsible for a clearly defined set of tasks that need to be performed subsequently to the products. Cells consist of both team members, production facilities, and all types of equipment (tools, handling equipment) necessary to organize and control the flow of work within their boundaries. Teams are not functionally organized, as that would imply that team members do not have to cooperate in the production of a single product. At the contrary, teams are flexible organizational units with various skill levels. Tasks are not allocated beforehand to specific team members, but it is left to the team to decide who will take care of the specific task. Hence, Quick Response Cells provide a flexible building block of organizing processes and are therefore an alternative to a functional organization.
A functional organization of processes is encountered in most companies that struggle with long lead times and throughput times. QRM advocates an essential principle to change the way of organizing processes: less individual tasks, more group tasks and responsibilities. This principle may be applied within production, but should not be restricted to that domain. In the office processes, Quick Response Cells may be as successful as within production. These cells are denoted as QROC’s, Quick Response Office Cells.
Take a System Dynamics Perspective
The second principle of Quick Response Manufacturing is to use a Systems Dynamics perspective. System Dynamics is an approach that doesn’t look at problems in isolation, but uses an integrative perspective on problems that at first sight seemed to be unrelated. System Dynamics assumes that there should be various stakeholders involved in order to solve a problem and to avoid falling back in previous –less effective- modes of working. Examples of a System Dynamics perspective are the identification of the lead time syndrome, i.e. the behaviour of several actors in a production process to increase lead times and lead time promises in response to behaviour of other actors in the process, such as the customer itself, managers, suppliers, and production employees.
Include supply chain partners
The third principle is to not restrict attention to actors who are within direct control, but to extend the improvement efforts to external partners in the supply chain. An effective company-wide approach presupposes an open mind towards the environment, whether this concerns supply partners, knowledge partners, regulative partners, or even market partners and organizations of customers.
Based on these three principles and the two main values, each QRM company will have to develop specific tools and methods in order to make it into a successful approach for the company. Generic QRM tools and methods are available, such as a
- Minimal Critical Time (MCT) analysis
- POLCA material flow control system
- QRM diagostic scan
However, note that these are not standardized tools that can be implemented in a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, several companies have applied a Polca material control system (see the publication “Design of Polca Material Control Systems” in the International Journal of Production Research, 2010, vol. 48 (5), 1455-1477). None of these implementations was an exact copy of an earlier implementation.
Hence, at the level of tools, Quick Response Manufacturing offers various possibilities to deploy its values and principles using tools, techniques, and methods, but it is far better to try to understand why a company benefits from the specific design of such a tool, what problem it solves, why that problem was manifest, et cetera. Tools are necessary to effectuate the Quick Response Manufacturing approach, but they are not the constant factor in a company. They should be modified and adapted to changing circumstances that are identified using the second Quick Response Manufacturing value: being responsive as an organization.
When we waste time, we waste ourselves
Tools and methods that help us to avoid common pitfalls, apply the three principles, and become quicker and more responsive have to be designed and applied, preferably in close cooperation with the actual team members who will have to realize the quick response in the every-day practice of the processes.