Production logistics refers to the steps involved in following a production plan to manufacture products at Bridgestone plants, then transporting those products to Bridgestone's sales hubs and warehouses. The mission entrusted to the Production Logistics Project was to contribute IT support to reconstruct production logistics tasks, which can be called the keystone of the manufacturing industry.
Project members were asked to shed light on how they were able to build a system that is so highly regarded inside and outside Bridgestone Software.
The project's mission at the time it was launched was to provide "only the right products at the right time in the right place."
Daily forecasts as well as planning and execution are required in order to deliver the products customers want, when they want them, and in the quantities they want. This entails knowing information such as which domestic factories can most efficiently handle each order, how much inventory should be kept in warehouses to satisfy demand, etc. The purpose of the Production Logistics Project was to broadly reassess the production logistics system that Bridgestone has been operating for the past 30 years, relieve supply chain bottlenecks, and build a new structure that could promptly supply products in response to sales. Project members were brought together to work on increasing efficiency in the flow of goods from plants to warehouses, boosting sales revenue, and increasing customer satisfaction.
There was trouble, however, in the initial days of the project. Tomoko Baba, who at the time was the Manager of Promotion for the Production Logistics Project, had the following to say in retrospect. "Our mission was decided from the beginning, but it was not at all clear how to concretely put it into play.
We would come up with ideas and move toward execution, but then be unable to square those ideas with actual circumstances. We struggled early on to bridge this gap between reality and our ideals for the project."
One of the reasons that the project faced difficulty was due to its scale and the large number of people involved. At one point, as many as 100 people inside and outside the Company were working on the project, and a single supply and demand adjustment would require three different iterations as members labored to gather input from so many parties.
The project reached a turning point in 2010, three years after getting off the ground. Reassessments were made in order to examine what was most important for the project, and to redefine the direction it should take and its goals. Steady efforts were made to solve each challenge facing the project.
According to Mr. Makino, "We first went back to the project's original goals and moved forward after re-assigning priorities. We tightened the scope of the project, and solidified what we exactly needed to do, and as a result, everything began running smoothly. "
Coming into the Company as a new hire in 2008, Takeshi Takahashi took a role leading the project's platform unification. With regard to changing the vector of the project, he said, "There was some hesitation. We continuously paid attention to how to shift things in order to match the platform concept with the project. And, working together with multiple companies, we worked hard to build teamwork through frequent meetings in order to bridge cultural gaps between collaborators."
Hiroshi Morita entered the Company straight out of college in 2009 and joined the Production Logistics Project the following year in 2010. He was frank in admitting that, "Being involved in a project of this size right after coming into the Company put me under pressure. My role was to organize which parts of the older and newer systems would be retained and which would be changed. I struggled to figure out the overall status of the project and what I needed to do within that context. It allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of what production logistics is."
Though coming from different backgrounds, Mr. Takahashi and Mr. Morita each joined the large-scale project very shortly after being hired. Mr. Makino and Ms. Baba mentored them and offered support and advice whenever there was confusion or lack of direction. This mentorship helped the new recruits gradually build ties with users and vendors.
The final stage of the Production Logistics Project was putting the new system into operation. One night in July 2012 was chosen to switch over, in one fell swoop, from the old system to the new system at ten plants across Japan. The size of the system switchover meant that there was a good deal of question over whether or not trouble would ensue. All of the project members made careful preparations and arranged their schedules specifically to accommodate the momentous event.
Then, the day of the switchover arrived. The new system came online successfully and according to plan, without any significant hiccups. In the following days, weekday evenings and weekends were used to switch over the remaining older systems in stages. Mr. Morita, who spent evenings and other work hours watching over the transition, said he "gave a huge sigh of relief" when everything worked out trouble-free.
According to Ms. Baba, "Re-starting the project once early in the beginning allowed us to eliminate much of our concern and we were actually able to switch things over quite smoothly. Our re-positioning turned out not to be a waste of effort." And Mr. Takahashi added, "We put huge effort into the preparations, so there was very little pain during the switchover. I had every expectation that things would go smoothly. As it was, I pumped my fists in joy when everything went to plan."
The full system switchover was successfully completed in January 2013. This brought the Production Logistics Project to a close in its seventh year. After its release, the new system achieved its target numbers and garnered high praise from users for its user-friendliness and other advantages. Also in 2013, the project showed impressive results, including being recognized by Bridgestone with a Distinguished Service Award.
Looking back on the completed project, Mr. Morita remarked, "I was truly impressed at the success of the project, given that I took part in it as a new employee without much insight or knowledge. After the release, messages from users, such as 'I'm glad we put our faith in you,' really gave me a sense of proud accomplishment. But we can't let down our guard. It's our job to keep the system up and running as we take care of its maintenance. I hope to use this great experience to be even more instrumental in optimizing the system to meet user needs in the future."
— Moving a project forward, clarifying the division of labor, choosing communication methods, and building an environment of trust and personal connections —
According to Ms. Baba, all of the members of the Production Logistics Project gained considerable experience. She commented, "Only working on a project of this scale can really offer this level of education. I hope that many of our employees can experience this, including the feeling of significant accomplishment."
Currently, Bridgestone Software is spearheading several projects that draw on the success of the Production Logistics Project. Focusing on future developments, Mr. Makino remarked, "Our department plans on further building out information platforms that allow for the use of related data as we try to improve value with a supply chain that is more coordinated overall."
With more and more employees traveling and being seconded abroad in recent years, a globally oriented awareness has solidified within the Company. The success of the seven-year Production Logistics Project will very likely lead Bridgestone Software to further advances in the future.