August 2014 | Commentary | The Lean Supply Chain

Selecting the Right Technology to Support Your Lean Operations

Tags: Logistics I.T., Lean

Paul A. Myerson is Professor of Practice in Supply Chain Management at Lehigh University and author of several books on Lean for McGraw-Hill, 610-758-1576

Technology plays a key role in enabling Lean supply chain operations. For example, connecting to suppliers in real time facilitates re-supplying parts and materials for a just-in-time production environment. But choosing the wrong software can create waste in terms of the time, effort, and money spent evaluating, selecting, implementing, and using the system.

Surveys commonly report that companies are dissatisfied with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation. Many implementations run late and over-budget, and do not deliver planned results. Companies can avoid much of this angst by using a solid, collaborative methodology to identify their technology needs, and select the ideal software vendor.

The selection process starts with establishing a multi-functional team connected to a variety of users. It must have a charter that specifies objectives, goals, or deliverables, with milestones, scope, and member roles and responsibilities.

The team develops a solid plan for organizing, scheduling, and controlling the project's selection phase. Before approaching vendors, the group gathers requirements.

First, they interview department managers and system users to discuss basic transaction flow, and ask general questions to develop specific requirements and issues. Then, the team holds an executive planning session with senior managers to gain a more strategic view of how the technology supports the company's mission statement and strategies.

The team then generates a draft of functional, budgetary, and technical requirements, and asks department managers to review it and provide feedback. When the solution requirements are finalized, the team sends requests for information to 10 or more vendors. After analyzing the responses, the team creates a short list of two to four vendors, and issues a request for proposal.

The final selection phase includes the following steps:

  • Meet with the vendor at your site to explain the details of your operations and requirements, and learn about the provider's organization, experience, and support structure.
  • Obtain and review user manuals, technical documentation, and demonstration software to become more familiar with the package.
  • Arrange and conduct a vendor demonstration—with a sample of your company's data, if possible—and interview at your site.
  • Contact the vendor's existing customers to check its references.
  • Review vendor proposals, prototypes, and related items.

The team evaluates the solutions and compares notes. After the group chooses a finalist, it arranges a site visit to one of the vendor's current customers' facilities.

Planning and following a selection process that reflects your company's key business processes and requirements saves money in the long run, because it puts you in a better position to negotiate features and functions, and choose the most suitable solution.

An open and collaborative solution selection process that includes the tool's future users could be the difference between success or failure of both the technology and your company.