Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Lean for Social Innovation: Finding Allies

By Josh Eby ‘18. This post is the fourth in our Spring 2016 series that explores how the Toyota Production System (TPS) philosophy “people are our most valuable resource” is applied in real time at The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) by students in MIS 3535 Lean for Social Innovation. Posts include the opinions of thought leaders and Babson student perspectives.

While embarking on the Lean journey for this course, the idea of going into an active organization of the scale of The Greater Boston Food Bank in a consulting role was very daunting to me. As an undergraduate student, I would be making recommendations to grown men on how to perform their job duties. I could only imagine what was going through the heads of the warehouse associates when they saw our group wandering around the warehouse floor and observing them. It was, to say the least, incredibly anxiety inducing.

But as I learned more about the Lean approach, I gained confidence because it is all about getting to big results by making small improvements (called countermeasures) through trial and error. When it came time to implement my countermeasure, I was fortunate to have an advocate in Dennis, the manager of the perishable section of the warehouse. Dennis proved to be a great resource and point of contact in the last three weeks of visits to The GBFB. Holding an MBA himself, he understood what I was trying to accomplish within the perishable section and my mission behind it. I was most thankful for Dennis’ willingness to implement my proposals and provide me with his honest feedback.

Having a relatively short implementation window, the progress I was able to make with my countermeasure pleased me. My target was to reduce the time it takes for a shipping associate to go to the perishable section to retrieve a pallet for an agency that is currently loading from four minutes and thirty seconds down to two minutes. On the one day I was able to observe and collect data with my countermeasure in place, the (unofficial) time for this process was somewhere in the vicinity of one minute and thirty seconds. Even though my sample size was miniscule, I would like to say that my countermeasure reached the target I had set. By sorting the section of staged perishable pallets by appointment time (XX:00, XX:20, XX:40), I was able to help the shipping associates locate their desired pallet in a more efficient manner.

It is important to state that my countermeasure was not without its flaws. The biggest problem Dennis, his team of pickers, and the shippers encountered was the overflow of staged pallets my system created. The morning period (8:20-10:00) was especially busy with the amount of appointments scheduled during that period. There can often be five agencies at the same time, and if each had two refrigerated pallets, there was already not enough room to stage them using my system. This led to placing pallets in other marked areas, rendering my idea ineffective. However, once the schedule lightened up in the afternoon, Dennis stated that my idea worked really well. If there was more space in the perishable section to stage completed pallets, my system would have been an effective tool for the stakeholders in the warehouse. However, thanks especially to Dennis’ advocacy and openness, I can walk away from this experience knowing I made a difference at The Greater Boston Food Bank.