The client realised that whilst gut reaction was telling them which suppliers they should be focusing their attention on, they didn’t have sufficient data to support their theories.
The good news is that the tools and methods for working with suppliers to improve are no different to working on improvements inside your system.
The Improvement Cycle still applies and Selecting Priorities is the first step.
So when you are looking at the continuous improvement of your suppliers, here is what we recommend:
- Common language and thinking. Continue to apply the thinking and methods yourself and support your supplier as they develop their understanding of the same tools and methods.
- Establish and lead steering teams. Changing the way people work and how they are measured requires careful planning, deployment, conscientious and open feedback and, of course, learning from the experience. Efforts need to be directed to areas most likely to reward you both and an active steering team is required to lead this.
- Start small! Plan for results in 3 to 6 months. Once your supplier has achieved results, they can transfer the newly demonstrated ability to improve a small process into the capability of reducing process variation across the whole system.
- Write up the achievements. It is vital that the supplier understands and records the gains and the lessons as they are made and that their line management understands the need for reporting and publicity; their people should be required to record their results in an understandable manner as part of their jobs.
- Celebrate! Plan to have a Share Fair and celebration event with the supplier to report the results of their first improvements.
The art comes in developing the skills of your people to intervene constructively because, in effect, your people are acting as consultants to their suppliers.
This role requires different behaviours from those normally expected, both for them and their managers. Development for both requires specific training and coaching and will help you realise the benefits of successfully collaborating with your suppliers to improve your system and delight your customers.