Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Lean for Social Innovation: TPS Driving Change

By Kali Diamond ‘15. This post is the last in our series that explores how Toyota Production System (TPS) philosophies were applied at The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) to support social innovation in MIS 3535 Lean for Social Innovation (held during Spring 2015). Posts include the opinions of thought leaders and Babson student perspectives.

Over the last months, it has been a pleasure working with Toyota and the Greater Boston Food Bank within the scope of this operations course. The overall project goal was to apply TPS and lean principles to the social sector. For my specific project, this translated to working to improve order accuracy at The GBFB. As a main takeaway, this project changed my perspective when it comes to defining a business need.

When our team was presented with the business need of improving order accuracy, it was difficult to understand the urgency of this need as The GBFB is almost always consistently meeting or exceeding a 97.5% accuracy rate. After further investigation, we were able to realize that with the mass amount of food being distributed by The GBFB annually, inaccuracy even 2.5% of the time translates to over a million pounds of wasted food! This realization allowed me to learn that while a business may appear successful, deeper analysis and metrics are always needed to quantify areas that could potentially be improved. It also showcased to me the level of commitment The GBFB has to the TPS philosophy of continuous improvement.

When attempting to identify areas for Kaizen myself, it was beneficial to use the 5 whys to investigate into the reasons for errors. This facilitated open communication between myself, management, and front-line employees, allowing me to gain various perspectives on how errors occur. While observation and communication helped me gain insight on how and why errors may be occurring, The GBFB monitored data allowed me to identify where errors were most frequently occurring, further focusing my project. This data highlighted the importance of auditing and monitoring tools within any business, even within the social sector, to track progress and draw attention to abnormalities.

I did come up with several countermeasures, experimented with a few, but my real learning experience didn’t solely come from the data they provided, but from what I saw up to the point of and through implementation. This project showed me how a very successful non-profit that operates impressively efficient and compensates all of its employees well can be slowed down by a lack of communication. The TPS Philosophy highlights that ‘People are our Most Valuable Resource’ which is entirely accurate, but ineffective if they cannot communicate. Going forward, this project has allowed me to take away the importance of everyone’s involvement in running lean operations. Developing an atmosphere with an attitude of continuous improvement is only possible with open communication and buy-in from all members of the organization.