Technology and Lean Management

Lorenzo Del Marmol

February 19, 2020

In the modern global economy, data rules supreme. In many cases data is more valuable than money, because, like the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs, it has a capacity of being monetized endlessly.

This applies not only to customer data but also to the metrics of project management and process management. When insufficient attention is paid to the data, project failure is likely. Even when projects or long-term processes muddle through, they cannot adhere to lean management principles when the fundamental evidence trail – data – is missing or insufficient.

Inadequate data smothers the potential for improvement opportunities, flow management and proof of success. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Technology has come a long way in recent years. The ever-increasing amounts of data that organizations are forced to deal with in their pursuit of lean management makes it seem like we are drinking from a firehose. But artificial intelligence and machine learning have helped us turn a corner. Technology no longer needs to be a mere beast of burden, carrying and organizing numbers and formulas. It is now a vibrant force of new, innovative knowledge. Here’s an example that connects directly to lean management:

At every hour of every day, in boardrooms and offices around the world, people are having meetings. These meetings have always been a source of waste and inefficiencies, from poor leadership through to difficulty logging on to conference calls, to late starts and ends. The inefficiencies of the meeting culture give rise to the legitimacy of the TIM WOOD approaches to efficiency within the office environment.

New technologies exist that support lean performance management in this specific area – technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in connecting people to videoconference calls by using facial recognition in place of tedious log-in codes, and by using machine learning (ML), to assess how much square footage a company actually needs for meeting room space annually, in light of the number of participants who attend in person and how many join remotely. Logging on and calculating minimum meeting space square footage are just two examples of the types of metrics that intelligent technology can proactively inject into a lean program.

Cloud based, as-a-service technologies are allowing project management tools, collaboration tools and immersive communication tools to proliferate and scale as needed, dispensing with the more analogue, on-prem challenges of earlier years.

Companies need to establish technological platforms that do not add more complexity and overload to those who use the technology and those who support it, namely IT. They also need to ensure that a deployment of intelligent, metrics-enabled technologies is introduced to the end users through training and change management techniques, and that the end results are made tangible and are celebrated. Here are two examples that fall easily into the lean playbook:

  • Replacing email attachments with linked documents. Phishing is a relentless cybercrime that can lead to ransomware, data breaches and sabotage. At this point in time one of the primary avenues for hackers is email attachments – busy people are tricked into clicking on what they think is an attachment, such as a “missed delivery” waybill or a job application, which released malware into a corporate network. By developing a culture in which people no longer send around attachments but instead paste a hyperlink to a single document that has been scanned and placed on a secure server, the risks of malware from phishing drop dramatically.
  • The use of dashboards for everything. Dashboards are visual summaries of “what’s going on.” They provide instantaneous feedback in an easy-to-read layout and can be deployed to any device: PC, laptop, tablet, phone or watch. Metrics and stats are instantly available and understandable.

These two techniques are not overly conceptually complicated. They can be blended into a culture and used to replace more archaic forms of transporting data, stimulating engagement and fostering continuous improvement.

Lean was devised to optimize processes in order to respond to customer demand, and this is best achieved by devising efficient systems for people to do their work, both in terms of self-directed work and as technologically sourced intelligence through AI and ML. It is not a concept that exists only in classrooms and vinyl binders. It is best put into practice in ways that are invisible and, in many cases, fun.

Take Waze, for example. Now owned by Google, Waze is a traffic app that combines the best of GPS (old-school) with crowdsourced data, gamification, AI and ML (new school) to make driving more efficient, not just for private citizens, but for the thousands of professional drivers who form a vital part of the supply chain for businesses everywhere. Its ease of use, and customer experience (CX) factor make this a lean technology disguised as a fun app, providing real-time driving recommendations and alerts.

With intelligent-connected tools, lean management is now entering a new and much more dynamic age.

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