The Lean approach to business management started when Toyota decided to retool its manufacturing practices to improve efficiency and quality simultaneously. Since then, the approach has gained traction globally and in almost every industry. Organizations have found it to be an effective method for reducing waste, spurring innovation, and encouraging employees to act on opportunities for improvement.
However, not all Lean initiatives are successful. There are countless stories of false starts and frustration. In many cases, the reason Lean doesn't thrive is that there is no structure to support the idea of continuous improvement or the tools used to achieve it. That's why software designed to enhance Lean efforts is so critical. It is often the key to a Lean culture that grows and thrives.
The Benefits of Lean Software
Lean is built on daily, incremental improvements implemented in every department and at every level. Most of the time, executive-level attention to these projects is not needed. Projects like improved workspace organization, more efficient forms, staffing optimization, and so forth probably won't land on the CEOs' desk. However, ironically, these are precisely the types of improvement opportunities that Lean is designed to address. With improved management software, leaders get a real-time look at how the team is resolving these problems. When managing a Lean organization, there is great value in understanding what types of issues are being found, who is solving them, and how quickly improvement projects go from idea to execution.
One of the guiding principles of Lean is that the entire organization should be aligned and working toward True North, or the organization's ultimate purpose. Often a technique called Hosin Kanri or Policy Deployment is used to identify the long-term and annual goals necessary to execute the strategy. In order to accurately predict where the organization will be in three to five years, every employee must understand their role in achieving the most critical objectives. Improvement software provides the structure for leaders to cascade goals from the top down to each individual employee's performance goals. When the entire organization is aligned around its central purpose, decision-making is simplified, priorities are clear, and opportunities to improve are easily spotted.
Every organization has a culture, whether leaders are intentional or not. For Lean leaders, the goal is to create a culture in which customer value and continuous improvement are centered. Leaders can't dictate culture, but they can certainly influence and guide it, creating the conditions for Lean thinking to thrive. Lean software offers a culture dashboard allowing leaders to see which team members, departments, and other leaders are embracing Lean behaviors and succeeding at positive change. Trends in activities and behavior can let you know if your culture is headed in the right direction or if a course correction is needed.
Like other changes in business practices, Lean initiatives are often seen by front-line employees as just the flavor of the week. If employees doubt leadership's commitment to Lean, they are unlikely to do the hard work of changing their behavior to fit the new model. Investing in Lean software signals to the organization that this is a profound and lasting change to the way work will be done in the future. It also provides an indication that the organization is willing to invest in the resources to put employees in a position to succeed.
Another fundamental Lean principle is respect for people. That idea should permeate every element of your Lean initiatives. One critical part of respecting people is recognizing them when they exhibit the behaviors necessary for constant improvement and achieving success with their Lean projects. Lean software helps build-in recognition to the improvement process and makes it easy to express appreciation for those who commit to positive change routinely.
Understanding the impact of your Lean initiatives is critical for two reasons. First, it justifies continued investment and effort. Second, it is incredibly motivational for employees. When they see the successes, even small ones, they are more likely to engage and look for additional improvement opportunities. Lean software helps capture the impact of improvement projects in terms of financial metrics, customer satisfaction, safety, process time, and employee retention.
In addition to these general advantages, improvement software supports many of the specific techniques used in Lean organizations.
Daily Huddle Meetings
Daily huddle meetings are a common Lean technique. Teams gather around a huddle board to talk about improvement efforts and engage in problem-solving. While physical huddle boards were once common, they are being replaced with digital boards for a number of reasons. Software-based huddle boards make it easy for emote or traveling employees to engage in the meeting effectively. They also take the concept from a snapshot in time to a repository for all the past efforts, adding to the tribal knowledge of the team.
The idea of Catchball is to move ideas back and forth, as well as up and down to get feedback and input and, eventually, a consensus on the course of action. Email isn't a great tool for this purpose because it is easy for messages and information to be missed or forgotten. Instead, improvement management software provides a platform for collaboration. It captures all of the information about each project in one place, giving everyone access to real-time information and making it easy to focus on the matter at hand.
DMAIC and PDSA
DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Adjust) are the workhorses of Lean improvement. They are the structured improvement cycles that guide each improvement project and ensure a consistent approach to problem-solving. Improvement software is ideal for documenting each step of whichever cycle is being used for a particular project. In addition, it has the capability to notify team members when action is needed or due dates are missed.
Gemba walks are a critical element of showing respect for people. During the walk, the leader goes to the place where work is done to ask questions and identify potential opportunities for improvement. Lean software offers an effective way to document that the Gemba walk occurred, collect data, and eventually initiate improvement opportunities.
Kanban is the Lean method for visualizing workflow and identifying any interruptions or backlogs in the process. This visual management approach helps managers act quickly when something is blocking progress, or there is too much work-in-progress in the funnel. Improvement software digitizes the Kanban board so that the current state of any project or process is instantly understood, and corrective action can be initiated if needed.
Standard work is the foundation upon which all improvement builds. To calculate the impact of change, the process must be performed consistently by the operators. Only after a successful PDSA or DMAIC cycle is the standard adjusted to incorporate the improvement. Lean software provides a home for Standard work, making it available in the workspace for reference.
Improvement software does not guarantee that your Lean initiatives will be successful. However, it helps create the conditions under which your team has the highest chances of getting the results you seek. We're happy to share stories of how our customers have incorporated it into their Lean journey.