Transforming Everyday Work at Four Seasons Catering with Lean Thinking


Transforming Everyday Work at Four Seasons Catering with Lean Thinking

Every day, it would take the team at Four Seasons Catering three hours to prepare and organise their warehouse for order fulfilment. This involves unpacking products coming from suppliers – and repacking some.

In order to pick out supplies to fulfil orders, staff also had to walk to different shelves in the warehouse as the organisation of supplies was not ideal. This posed a risk of human error, especially during peak hours when staying on top of orders was a struggle. Staff were also often tired and stressed out by these hectic workflows. Instead of streamlining its processes, the business hired more staff to cope with the workload.

Such insights could only be uncovered by applying Lean Thinking principles, which SIT helped introduce to the business. Lean Thinking requires management to conduct visits to the gemba, the place where work takes place or value is created, in order to observe existing processes. By mapping steps and processes from end-to-end, and identifying and eliminating wastes within these processes, products or services will be able to reach the end user seamlessly and without interruption.

Ms Joey Lee, General Manager of Four Seasons Catering, shares, “We didn’t realise how chaotic the situation in the warehouse was until we went on a gemba walk there. We had missing orders and packing errors. We wasted a lot of time on the wrong activities, and never looked into the problems deep enough. Lean opened our eyes to uncover opportunities for improvements.”

Applying Lean Techniques

Lean techniques are based on the “5S system” – which include Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardise and Sustain. For instance, Four Seasons Catering grouped commonly used items together, and moved seasonal items to the back of the warehouse. Shelves were cleaned and labelled to facilitate restocking. Staff were also trained to restock as well as pick items in a standardised order.

The reorganised layout in the warehouse streamlined order fulfilment and greatly reduced the distance staff needed to cover to complete an order. Pickers could now progress smoothly from section to section, reducing the time taken to search for items. In addition, staff could bring a trolley along with them instead of dropping items off in a centralised area.

A similar strategy was introduced in the dry kitchen, where it was often difficult to locate items or detect if an item was out of stock. As a result, items were often overstocked. In addition, only two members of staff who were in charge of ordering supplies were familiar with where items were located.

Using Lean techniques, the team identified commonly used items and worked with chefs to assess the quantity of items needed on a daily basis. Kitchen supplies were also reorganised and labelled using a new visual management system that would make it clear if an item had to be reordered. Markings on the shelves indicated the minimum stock level needed, so empty spaces meant that an item has to be reordered.

By implementing a good system for replenishment based on Lean principles, staff no longer needed to overstock and were able to locate items easily.


Benefitting from Lean Thinking

Since implementing Lean Thinking, Four Seasons Catering was able to cut storage space in the warehouse by more than half. The time took to fulfil an order was also reduced by 5 minutes or 20%. In the dry kitchen, the reorganisation translated to a marked reduction in work processing for ordering and restocking.

Ms Lee, who believes that the ingredients of a successful Lean transformation are people engagement, teamwork and leadership support, shares, “Engaging people is critical, and this is something I believed in even before we embark on Lean. They need to be an active part of the change and we need to help them understand why they are so important to us. It’s also critical to realise that, without teamwork, Lean has no chance of succeeding. I personally learn a lot from people in our company.”

“Finally, our behaviours as leaders have to change too. I knew that fighting fires all the time was not a sound way of managing the business. Lean gave me an alternative and taught me to always get to the root cause of problems, make decisions based on data, and work with our people to improve things.”

Associate Professor Lee Kuan-Huei, SIT, who worked with the project teams, further observes that there was much to be gained from “first working with industry partners in a classroom setting, then transferring the knowledge and everything discussed in the classroom to the on-site setting. “The experience of working with Lean coaches and the company in a real scenario allows academics like myself to see how theories are implemented in practice.”

Four Seasons Catering is determined to continue using the knowledge it has acquired, to bring Lean to new areas of the business, and to new heights.

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