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The Yellow Brick Road to Continuous Improvement: "Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!"

Posted By: SGK July 09, 2015

This blog post was contributed by John Lawrence, Business Development Director, Europe, at SGK and member of SGK’s Continuous Improvement Practice.

Many will remember the rhythmical chanting of Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland) and her unusual counterparts in the in 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. For those of you fortunate enough to have experienced the film, whether as a child or through your own children, Dorothy is swept away to the magical land of Oz by a tornado and embarks on a journey to find the Wizard who can help get her home.

This classic film has featured prominently in my household over the last few months as my 4-year-old stares in wonder at the challenges and barriers placed in Dorothy’s way as she follows the “yellow brick road.” It got me thinking about process and the supply chain within the graphics industry. Dorothy asks a fair question that applies to our industry, “Is there a place where there isn't any trouble? Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”

In the graphics industry, we all strive to find this place over the rainbow and similarly we also fear the lions, tigers and bears on the journey. Of course, the goal is to reduce our chances of meeting such characters and obstacles, but the real question is what we can learn from the ones we do come across. In Dorothy’s case her encounter with the Cowardly Lion leads not only to friendship and an alliance to achieve her ultimate goal of going home, but also to an understanding that he too has an objective to fulfill.

The yellow brick road is a metaphor for a prescribed journey or process to a destination. Brick-by-brick Dorothy gets closer to her destination with the help of her friends. She follows a prescribed and well-travelled route with no intention of ever leaving it. But on the other hand, she doesn’t look close enough at the solution, which she and her friends already possess. Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) had already revealed that the Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers were magical – just not revealing their specific power. 

Continuous Improvement is about listening, learning and implementing new ways of working to improve brand performance. Ultimately it is about reflecting on a process that delivers incremental and transformational change. In The Wizard of Oz, a transformational change is achieved by two characters: the Wizard himself – not because he had any magical powers – but simply because he was able to identify how Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man could take greater ownership of their challenges. The second transformational character was Glinda who had the solution all along, it was just that no one had asked her or, more importantly, no one had listened.

In the world of graphics supply chains it is often a belief that it is someone else’s responsibility to solve a perceived challenge or prevent it from occurring. But in reality all stakeholders within a supply chain should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance. 

As consultants we examine more strategic elements that include deciding how to increase the value of the delivery process output to the customer and how much flexibility is valuable in the process to meet changing needs. Our goal however can only be achieved through these stakeholders appreciating their critical role and ownership of the solution.

Granted that the film itself would have been very short if the characters had identified “value add” vs. “non-value add activity” too early on in the story, but they would have achieved their objectives far quicker and more effectively.

In the real world we must also determine the best avenues of support by stakeholders in the supply chain, technology, resource and agency partners. We understand that by developing the most efficient workflow a business will benefit from:

•    Increased customer loyalty and market share
•    Achieve growth in sales and earnings
•    Sustain competitive advantages
•    Improve stakeholder value
•    Reduce risk

In short, evaluation and implementation of better ways of working drives quality, delivery and a key element in the current environment: cost. 

SGK’s Continuous Improvement practice recently worked with a global FMCG organisation that was faced with the common challenges of an outdated graphics design workflow, as well as global markets challenged by a lack of resources. They sought improvements to cost, service and agility of design execution across the graphics supply chain. This business recognised the need for change and has since evolved its model – by listening to employees – and implementing new ways of working that have delivered multi-million pound (£) savings, reduced risk of product recall, quality consistency in operations across large and small markets, increased delivery capacity, and importantly, wide ranging acknowledgment of the improvement and efficiencies in the working lives of key brand owner stakeholders. This organisation’s graphics “yellow brick road” was a far more pleasant journey through the collaborative approach to improvement and a sustainable approach to implementation.

Why evolving through Continuous Improvement is a must:
Inefficiency is common as organisations grow over time. As companies change additional layers of stakeholders can lead to decentralised and ambiguous accountability of process. What should be a relatively straightforward, streamlined workflow becomes bogged down in a complex and time-consuming web of competing agendas, obsolete policies, and siloed communications. 

Just as in The Wizard of Oz, self-inflicted barriers within brand environments can make for a long road to your destination. However there are tools and practices that will improve the quality of your branded assets, allow you to go to market faster, at a lower cost and with more efficient use of resources that will help cut out non-value-added time and energy from your branded material supply chains

At SGK, we don’t claim to wear ruby slippers, but we do recognise from experience that stakeholders within your business do. Given the opportunity to tap them together, change can happen and the results truly can be magical.

Learn more about how to achieve better marketing supply chain performance from SGK’s Continuous Improvement Practice.