One of the reasons that the Lean manufacturing business methodology is so popular with companies in every industry is that it comes complete with a set of tools for structuring and managing the goal of continuous improvement and waste reduction. These tools are great on their own, but many of them become even more valuable when improvement management software is used as a single platform for managing positive change. This post examines some of the most often used.
The concept behind Catchball in Lean is to toss ideas back and forth to get input and feedback, eventually arriving at a consensus. While it is commonly used, email is a less than ideal tool for Catchball because it is so easy for messages to be missed and essential information to be lost. Lean management software, on the other hand, is the perfect tool for this kind of back and forth collaboration. All information about the idea under consideration is in one place, and everyone can access it without filtering through a ton of unrelated messages.
Daily huddles are a fairly typical occurrence in Lean organizations. Teams gather around a huddle board to discuss improvement work and solve problems. While very useful, the practice poses some challenges, especially for distributed workforces. With Lean software, geography is no problem. The system digitizes the huddle board, making it possible for people to participate from anywhere. It also captures the history of improvement and helps leaders stay connected to the improvement work of all the teams they oversee in a way that isn’t practical with a physical board hanging on a wall.
DMAIC and PDSA
DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Adjust) are the cornerstones of Lean improvement. They represent two different variations of a structured improvement cycle. Each is designed to ensure orderly and helpful change. Lean software is extremely valuable for documenting each step of whichever cycle you use. It can be set up to notify team members when action is required, or due dates pass without action. It also helps to measure the impact of the improvement over time.
The purpose of a Gemba walk is to go to the place where work is done to show respect for the workers and identify opportunities for improvement. Changes are never made during the walk, only after it is complete and thoughtful analysis occurs. Lean manufacturing software becomes the repository for each improvement under review. It kicks off the workflow for those opportunities that are selected for implementation. It is also the ideal place to store any photos, illustrations, or other documents associated with the walk.
Hoshin Kanri is a strategy development tool that involves focusing on a few breakthrough objectives that can be achieved in 3-5 years. Strategies, tactics, and tasks are crafted to support the success of each goal. Lean improvement software supports Hoshin Kanri (also called policy deployment) by aligning each individual’s objectives with the overall strategy right in the same tool that they use for daily improvement work, bringing the strategy into the consciousness of every employee, every day.
Kanban is a Lean tool for visualizing workflow and finding any interruptions or backlogs in a work process. Visualizing the movement of work from one part of the process to the next helps leaders act quickly when the stream clogs in some way. Lean technology allows users to create digital Kanban boards so that the current state of any process or project is easy to spot and appropriate action can ensue.
Another critical concept in Lean is Standard Work. It is the idea that for there to be improvement, there must be a baseline set of best practices for each task that is applied consistently until the process is selected for improvement. Lean manufacturing software is used to support Standard Work in several ways. The process of developing the Standard is tracked as an improvement, ensuring that all of the right people are involved and informed. It also serves as a repository for the current Standard. When the Standard requires additional improvement, the cycle begins again.
Lean management software is not a panacea, nor is it a replacement for a culture that supports the constant search for perfection. However, by giving your team a platform for improvement work, you increase the odds of success for every Lean manufacturing tool that you leverage. You’ll likely see improvement projects move faster and more of them reach the finish line. That should make everyone happy.