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Implementing Lean in LTL Operations

After spending a decade working with lean processes at Menlo Worldwide Logistics, Jeff Rivera is now leading the lean implementation at Con-way Freight, a major LTL company. He discusses the challenges and opportunities of Con-way's lean journey.

Four years into its lean implementation, one of the biggest benefits that Con-way Freight has experienced is the enthusiastic response from the company’s drivers, says Rivera, vice president of national sales and lean implementation leader. “We were a little concerned about how our drivers would do in terms of change management, but they love that we are engaging them to help solve problems and to take waste out of the organization,” he says. “Their biggest question is why we haven’t done this before now.”

Con-way Freight, like many companies, has traditionally had a top-down culture, Rivera says. “Our drivers have always been great workers, but we weren’t taking time to ask them about the problems and the waste they saw on the job, so they became extremely good at working around problems. Now we are educating our employees and our supervisors and managers on what waste looks like and how to attack it, and they are coming back to us with lots of feedback on inefficiencies.” The company addresses those issues in problem solving teams that include drivers. “Using basic problem solving tools, these teams have made a lot of little improvements,” says Rivera. “We call that hitting singles. Each of those singles takes a little waste out and drives up efficiency and together they add up to a significant impact on performance, with the extra bonus of boosting driver morale.”

Another exciting aspect of the ongoing implementation is its cross-functional breadth, says Rivera. “A lot of times in lean transformation projects, the operations team heads down the path and the rest of the organization just watches.” At Con-way Freight, he says, the effort has encompassed IT; safety and maintenance, which now have lean-certified teams; sales and marketing; and even corporate executives. “Our president and his staff are using blue ocean planning, which is a policy deployment of lean principles that aligns strategic goals of the organization. They have created a lean strategy war room where they manage key metrics and projects across the organization, using lean management and visual tools to make sure projects are on track.”

The biggest challenge around the lean leadership has been middle management, Rivera says. “Our managers and supervisors have led in a top-down culture for many years. Making the change to engage teams in problem solving and becoming more of a coach and mentor is a big culture shift and it takes time, so the speed of transformation isn’t as fast as we would like. But we definitely are making progress.”

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