Supply chain resilience through quality management

Abstract: The length and complexity of the supply chain tend to increase, rather than diminish, thereby making the supply chain riskier and less predictable and, hence, more vulnerable. At the same time, customers are becoming increasingly demanding. The challenge to businesses today is to create a resilient supply chain in order to manage and mitigate risk and vulnerability. The purpose of the thesis is to explore, describe and develop the use of a combined quality management philosophy in logistics processes in order to improve supply chain resilience. The findings are supported by six studies, which are presented here in six papers. The studies show that there is a lot to gain if organisations are able to combine quality management philosophies, as they are complementary to one another. TQM places its strongest emphasis on the commitment and involvement of all employees. Lean is a discipline that focuses on process speed and removal of waste in order to increase customer value. Six Sigma benefits from an added focus on variability and design of products/services and processes. It has been indicated that a combined quality management philosophy makes the logistics processes more reliable, flexible, agile and robust while reducing cost. The companies’ risk awareness has increased and their risk management has been improved, thanks to the Six Sigma training programmes and philosophy. Using a combined quality management philosophy, the speed of production could be increased, and the responsiveness and flexibility could be improved, which means quicker response to changes. It has also been indicated that a combined quality management philosophy improves the companies’ resilience, due to their increased agility and strengthened ability to handle variability and risk management. Quality management tools can be very effective in the companies’ efforts to control supply chain risk and to identify risk sources of variation, even outside the focal company. In Six Sigma projects, the root cause of variation is often found outside the focal companies, which requires more collaboration in the supply chain. However, if the companies that use a combined quality management philosophy intend to become more resilient, they must involve suppliers and customers more in their own processes and design products/services and processes together. Collaboration with the suppliers and customers and the notion of how to extend a combined quality management philosophy outside the focal company are of importance in order to make the whole supply chain resilient. This could lead to a problem, especially since the conditions for transport and logistics in regards to the application of quality methods and tools represent a large area, unexploited by the companies. On the other hand, Six Sigma has standardised training courses, and it has been demonstrated how a Six Sigma framework can enable collaboration across companies’ boundaries in the supply chain, with the use of Six Sigma training and the DMAIC-roadmap as a common platform. Even if a combined quality management philosophy is effective and efficient, the companies must re-invest in additional methods, tools and strategies to make the entire supply chain resilient. It could be this re-investment in risk prevention and mitigation solutions that enables faster process responsiveness, the establishment of a risk management culture by creating common values, culture and rules in the supply chain and the use of logistics strategies and methods.

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