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IntroductionThe aim of this project is to analyse a business operation by using the knowledge on lean thinking acquired through lectures and reading resources. The report is divided in four main parts: Literatures and Lectures of Lean Thinking, Lean Thinking in Practice, Conclusion and Considerations.The first three focuses particularly on lean thinking concepts and principles given in the material and how they could be question or complemented with each other. Then, leading to the consequent section where the selected business operation is delimit and then analysed with the previous ideas. Finally, closing with an overall conclusion on lean thinking. Afterwards, ending with the analysis limitations and a reflection of our performance in the considerations segment of the document. Literatures and Lectures of Lean Thinking LiteraturesLean thinking can be translated into the “assumptions that improvements should be based solely on quality, cost and delivery and that this create customer value” (Hines et al 2004). But this is not fully accurate as when implemented in organizations, lean thinking, should be focused on putting people (customers) first rather than systems. Businesses believe the reduction of waste and value creation is the main goal of lean as Hines et al (2004) declares: “The critical point in the lean thinking is the focus on value. Often however, value creation is seen as equal to cost reduction.” The previous assumption is wrongly focused on the process rather than people. Conversely, the concept of Lean present people as more valuable than a system. Another assumption in almost any company using the lean thinking approach is that there is continuous improvement from within the company by everyone’s own individual processes. Therefore, the collective improvement of each individual performances should raise the overall productivity rate of the company. However, even though Toyota is considered one of the most innovative automobile companies a lot of this intellectual credit is bought from smaller companies (Mehri, 2006). There was no room for internal designers to express their own views as the majority of this was left to small consultancy firms.Lean thinking is mostly linked into directly adding value. Consequently, business activities should be done in the most efficient way possible, this can be supported by Rooney (2005) who claims “Lean principles have overlapped into the natural growth of many organisations, just short of JIT systems and kanban, or poke yoke”. Adding to this, there is an industry-wide assumption that success is guaranteed when applying lean techniques. Lean is a strong and widely used concept but it is not valuable on its own, it needs to be supported by good leadership, dedication and patience. Other questionable assumptions in Lean Thinking as stated by Lamming (1996) “it implies a total view of the process” and “doesn’t limits the focus to traditional assumptions on ‘necessary’ or ‘unnecessary’ activities” . The first statement when used in practice, reduces the flexibility of the process and what Lamming calls “time to think” and “place to experiment” which for some operations is as vital as the whole process (like in Toyota’s case; Mehri, 2006). In the second assumption isn’t considered the effect of poor communication in internal supply and the challenges of inter-firm relations have.Lamming (1996) also says the main assumption in the lean thinking is that it could increase commercial returns. The previous statement is turned down with the UK beef supply case study from Cox and Chicksand (2005) where balancing the meat cut of specific types flowing down from the upstream by applying lean thing was supposed to increase returns. Lean thinking failed to solve the ‘carcass imbalance’ problem which could have improved the commercial return. Joosten (2009) writes “the implications of sociotechnical influences of lean techniques as the final problem with lean logic, is how the future will change various areas of the business”. Therefore, the literature argues that lean thinking model is a universal approach as a system of production, which is questionable because lean thinking requires predictable demand and supply and non applicable to operations with a long lead time such as the  UK beef supply (Cox and Chicksand, 2005).To conclude, in addition to the fact that customer and supplier positions are overlooked in Lean Supply, other assumption relies in its three features: cost transparency, relationship assessment, and excuses and blame (Lamming, 1996). Thus, could be supported with the key aspects of criticism in Lean thinking used by Hines et al (2004) that are the lack of: contingency, ability to cope with variability, consideration of human aspects and the narrow operational focus on shop-floor (where lean think was created in Japanese manufacturer).LecturesA principle not really brushed upon in the previous lectures is about the flow of information and communication between departments. In lean thinking concept, communication is supposed to flow as a group with mutual intellect which allows ideas to bounce off one another in order to spark innovative ideas. However, this system is far more rigid than theoretically perceived as in Toyota’s case where employees have to request the manager for any design approvals before have it sent to be produced, instead of the theoretical approach where empowered employees are able to make decisions on their own when they see an opportunity or mistake (Mehri 2006). Moreover, the lectures didn’t address the power situation that originates from lean thinking not recognising customer – supplier positions (Lamming, 1996) and which could affect commercial returns. Thus, seen more clearly looking back to the UK beef case from Cox and Chicksand (2005)  where retailers have a higher power than supplier because they account for most of the sales. In the same way the power relation also results on enforcing lean production that benefits the retailer while affecting the rest of the supply chain (Cox and Chicksand, 2005). Furthermore, other concepts that connect directly with lean thinking not mentioned in the lectures are the capacity changes that come from lean production (Joosten, 2009), the benefits of using the called “time to think or space to experiment” (Lamming, 1996) and the area of supply chain relationship that has a crucial role in operation management as a negotiation tool (Cox and Chicksand, 2005). All the mention before and particularly the last one encourages parties to develop the inter-fim supply relationships (Lamming, 1996) and collaborate to reduce waste in order to get to a win – win situation (Cox and Chicksand, 2005).Lean Thinking in PracticeWHSmith OperationsWHSmith is UK’s most popular bookseller, stationer and newsagent. As said by their Chief information officer Ian Windsor “Our main objectives are to reduce and better manage waste, and get the right products available at the right time in the right quantity” (Relex Solutions, 2017) so their main objective is to improve the company’s profitability and cash flow generation, delivering sustainable returns to their shareholders. They operate in two businesses, Travel and High streets, that share brand and some of the services whilst also having different goals and strategic plans. In Travel they strive to be leading retailer in convenience, books and news for the travelling customer. In high streets their main goal is to be the most popular high street stationer, bookseller and newsagent in Britain. (WHSmith)We looked at the operations process of WHSmith express in Lancaster University who operates as one of their high street business. The manager informed us that they are not responsible for inventory management. The products are scanned by the software in their register and sent out to head office and when there is low stock levels the head office sends the replenishment.  Also WHSmith is not the one managing the operations in their three distribution centers WHSmith appointed The Logistics Business for a high level of review. This so that they can identify opportunities for improvements which can lead to further development. Their commercial objectives are centered in cutting waste and making changes to decrease cost whilst maintaining high services levels. Their strategy has all the concepts of lean thinking from the efficiency into creating high service level.Through the information acquired with the observation time in the selected WHSmith it was evident two general categories could be settled: snack and stationary.  On one hand, Snack covers a wide range of products from a variety of beverages (sodas, juices, teas, etc.) to packed snacks (chips, sweets, chocolate, etc.) which aren’t early perishables. On the other hand, stationary that consists mostly of supplements for students and staff such as pens, markers, paper, staples, etc. and including in this category entertainment magazines and gift cards.After examining the main inventories, one possible way it may hind their operation is due to the nature of each category and the difficulty this represents to create joint refilling times. Moreover, seasonal demand principally the stationary products at the beginning of each academic term could affect a feasible arrangement of a joint reordering. Following the idea of the seasonal demand, it may require a great responsiveness to replenish as consumption peaks otherwise the cost of storing enough items rises. Whereas, focusing on non-perishable foods instead of fresh products or prepared meals could serve as a strategy resulting in various benefits. Firstly, avoid potential losses on the unsold expired stock. Also, the storage and logistics advantages of the increased shelf life. And the promising economic returns from the inventory maximization.Lean Thinking in WHSmithWHSmith could improve their operations with some lean techniques. Firstly, by giving the store manager at each high street store lean training and permission to reorder stock, the organisation could eliminate the intermediary head office. If this improved the efficiency of their stock management, they may also be in a position to employ a just-in-time methodology. Proper segmentation of the various types of items they stock would be very important, as well as a period in which they could monitor the rates at which their most profitable products are sold. As was observed at the Lancaster University store of the retail chain, a small number of manned checkouts lead to long queues at daily high periods of demand. WHSmith could replace one of the manned checkouts for multiple smaller self-checkout machines. These would automatically recognise when deals apply to minimise human error, and customers waiting times in queues would be dramatically shortened. We further observed that the storage space connected to the store was claustrophobic and disorganised. Arriving stock could be organised in order of urgency, and then stored by the shop manager in a neat and functional way. A more extreme application of lean thinking could be to redesign the physical environment of the storage space with refrigerators and a controlled climate to allow certain stock to be held for longer. However, this strategy could contradict a just-in-time approach. Greater promotion of their e-commerce wing would also reduce the waste associated with brick and mortar stores. Customers are already online to buy stationary, and any lean improvements to the backstage workings of WHSmith would see a return on investment if the ecommerce platform was more widely used. Alternatively, Smiths could put tablets in shop kiosks. Shoppers benefit from virtual experts, and they expect an above average store experience.Lean Thinking as a problemAs mentioned in the previous section WHSmith uses lean thinking by making re-ordering through an intermediary, in this case the headquarters, and simplify the in store process. However, each store has its own demand for stocks which suggests that different stores have different consequent level of stock. Given the location of the selected WHSmith the demand of the products from the stationary category peak during the beginning each academic term compared to other stores. The current system requests a great responsiveness from the store in order to fulfil the level of demand. However, it is dependent to the replenishment lead time as that process is external to the actual store. Therefore, if the lead time is long WHSmith might lose sales while waiting for the products to arrive.WHSmith has a partnership with their suppliers to share spaces in WHSmith transportation vehicle to help collect and delivery products at the existing transport routes (WH Smith PLC’s 2016 Corporate Responsibility report, 2016). Thus, displays a lean thinking approach that helps reducing waste movement among the whole supply chain and reduces overall emissions. This collaboration might reduce the productivity of both the strategic planning for the transport as they have to include more products and the delivery because drivers are required to use less efficient method to complete their tasks and indirectly affect WHSmith. Additionally the partnership relation could affect their operations if presented with a situation or emergency which requires immediate change of the transportation logistics, this will cause issues given the arrangement and might result in “out of stock” or a potential temporal close down stores. However, if the relationships between WHSmith and suppliers is strong, the communication would allow them to perform coordinate logistic changes which could help solve the potential emergency. ConclusionOverall, from reading the literature this report points out strengths of lean thinking such as it can allows businesses improve effectiveness more if  combined with good leadership, dedication and patience. However, this suggests that lean thinking is not an effective tool on practice by its own and there are more pitfalls that have also been explored in this essay. The main critique of lean thinking is that when in practice it has difficulties managing internal processes or external relationships. For the lean concepts to work is required to have predictable demand, guaranteed supply input and high volumes so that operational products can be made. Therefore, also implies that the lean thinking approach does not succeed when there are unreliable supply chains, unpredictable customer demands and innovation in the market that cannot be accounted for (Fisher, 1997; Christopher and Towill, 2002; Lee, 2002). After going through the critiques of lean thinking, is possible to conclude that lean thinking is at first sight a very productive system however in practice achieving that philosophical perfection (Lamming, 1996) can bring serious repercussions in the workplace (e.g. Toyota workers getting injured at a significantly higher rate relative to companies not employing lean thinking; Mehri, 2006). Finally, from reflecting on the literature, it can be concluded that there is a lack of supportive evidence in favour of businesses adopting a lean thinking approach in the work environment. This small body of supportive evidence suggests that lean thinking is a very good concept when improving the productivity level. Nonetheless, the counter argument is that lean thinking creates poor working conditions by managers setting highly ambitious job targets for workers. In the end this creates a dilemma for businesses on placing economic returns over morals. ConsiderationsLimitations of our analysisOn one side, the general outline for the first and second section of the report might be biased towards the issues of lean thinking after a group discussion. Thus, as a consequence from consulting reading material focused on the problems of lean thinking in addition with taking the deadline extension which allowed all members to cover more of the readings individually. If more resources such as cases on the success of lean thinking were provided, the discussion within the group could be more objective and exploring both points of view. The lectures on lean thinking are taken as an introduction compared to the resources for the project. Therefore, it is possible to consider it a limitation since most of the ideas from the readings were overlook and the lectures could have contributed with lean thinking successes. On the other side, while doing the business observation one member of the group informally asked the Lancaster University WHSmith store manager about their stock ordering operation. The store manager has limited knowledge and gave a brief response by saying that the sales information goes directly to the headquarters by an online system and recommended the group to enquiry WHSmith headquarter for more information. Therefore, an interview appointment with WHSmith operation administrator is necessary for the group to present a more detailed analysis on the system operation. Group work ReflectionThis last section is separated into the 5 groups of the project management processes (Duncan, 1996) in order to give a complete performance evaluation of the team throughout this assessment. First, we will look at the initiating process which started with the project briefing lecture and ended when the groups were published. It was difficult to find everyone given the fact that all the members of the group have never met each other before. However, everyone shares the same interest to bring the assignment forward. Second, the first meeting of the group is the most important for the planning process. During the first session, most time was spent on looking at the requirements and deadlines. Followed by two discussions; one gave the initial work path and the goals that should be met to get the project done, and the other held to vote for an extension of the deadline. Then, while entering the different stages of execution it was necessary to go through the controlling process. Through the executing phase, the initially having duplicated activities due to ambiguous instructions being shared around the group, and two hour meetings with no real outcome besides observation time in the chosen business made clear that a review was required. This led to different measures such as an alternate work scheme and new deadlines. Finally, the closing process was reached in a reasonable time considering the setbacks. Most of the time in phase was focused on editing and completing all the tasks. Furthermore, with the description of each group it is possible to state failures and successes of our performance. On one hand, the periods of trial and error with many setbacks were ironically solved by applying lean thinking. On the other hand, having the different points of view helped assemble the complete result.

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