Successful and sustained Lean implementation relies on many factors, from good communication and strong leadership to problem solving and data analysis. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, much of the effectiveness of Lean can be traced back to innately human characteristics, but there is also an increasing role for technology to play. So this week we’re taking a look at Lean technology and how it might be relevant to your Lean programme.
We’ve now reached the tipping point where smartphones and tablets have overtaken desktop computers as the device of choice in our tech lives. While PCs and Macs still have a place in the workplace, increasingly workers are using handheld touchscreen devices to manage their workflow wherever they are. Hardly surprising when 61% of UK employees work from home at least once a month and many are based partly or wholly out of the office.
One tech solution to this new fractured working environment is the app. Fast overtaking intranets and even websites as hubs of information and communication, apps are a fantastic tool for collating and sharing data, inviting input and consulting colleagues remotely in real-time. If every employee has access to a Lean app on their favoured device, they can contribute to and stay connected to your Lean programme anytime, anywhere.
Whether you choose to purchase an off-the-shelf package such as LeanApp or LeanKit, or commission a bespoke app designed specifically for your business, there are countless features to this technology which could really give your Lean programme a boost. An app automatically creates an environment based on transparency, accountability and efficiency, allowing each person and department to have visibility of the whole picture, while also able to share their own contribution towards Lean goals.
Internet of Things
IoT or the Internet of Things is another burgeoning sphere of technology which can impact on Lean. From clothing and cars to furniture and even packaging, intelligent, Internet connected objects are fast infiltrating our lives. While some much-touted gadgets look likely to remain gimmicky fads (the fridge that orders your milk for you), other Lean technology advances could be truly game-changing.
Research firm Gartner Inc estimates that the total number of connected things globally will reach 20.8 billion by 2020 and, as this article points out, “IoT intersects with Lean methodology and has the potential to take Lean to the next level. The information gleaned from connected devices, including users’ experiences with a variety of products, can be fed back to instrumented factories to provide unprecedented opportunities to enhance manufacturing processes and reduce waste.”
Something as simple as a motion sensor enables you to track the movement (or non-movement) of a product during the manufacturing process, helping to identify bottlenecks; other types of sensor can quickly identify defects when a product doesn’t conform to the standard. Similarly, GPS tracking can highlight potential efficiency savings in transportation, warehousing and inventory control by mapping the flow of product through the supply chain.
Of course, the output of all this technology is vast amounts of data, so the level of benefit to be derived from Lean technology is directly related to an organisation’s ability to interpret and use the data effectively. Data also brings with it a responsibility to store and protect the information adequately, and in the light of several high profile and potentially damaging data breaches and hacking incidents, it’s imperative that you have the right safeguards in place to keep your data secure.
These are exciting times in Lean technology as there is so much scope to super-charge your Lean programme. The pace of change is speeding up all the time though, so perhaps the biggest challenge is deciding which technology is right for you and then ensuring that any investment you make is as futureproof as possible.