"Stop using all information technology and do everything manually!"
What would be our reaction if the leadership in our company made this directive? Disbelief for sure; we would think that they had lost their minds. No computers, no cell phones, no email, every single process to be done with pencil and paper and whiteboards.
Well, this is what many in the Lean consulting community have been preaching for years. But, in today’s world, is this approach to the establishment of lean management and a culture of continuous improvement based on purely manual methods realistic? I am a complete Lean advocate, but I am also an advocate for the use of technology where appropriate to help Lean become the core business management culture in an organization.
Lean manual processes are vital to enabling foundational learning; Lean will not sustain without first understanding the core principles of Lean and putting these core principles in place by doing and collaborating manually. But once these core principles are learned and practiced, I would argue that technology is also important to enable Lean to sustain and be adopted as a standard across geographically diverse, cross-functional teams.
Recently, I engaged with the continuous improvement leadership team in a global Fortune 500 company. The team explained to me that the organization was completely committed to Lean as a core management principle from the CEO down.
However, they struggled with transparency across the organization and with best practice sharing - and that in itself was non-Lean. Teams in separate geographic locations could be working on improvement in the same core process blind to what the other teams were doing, and what the business impact truly was. There was very little follow through on making a key improvement the new standard repeatable process across the corporation. In addition, the CEO did not have any real-time accurate metrics on the business impact of the continuous improvement initiatives across the company.
This Fortune 500 Company realized that a technology platform was vital for a Lean organization to continue to sustain. Teams needed cross-functional collaboration and transparency. The CEO and the leadership team needed instant access to metrics on the impact on new Lean processes. Without this, Lean as a core management operating culture would die.
The use of technology does change behavior - and not only that, but it also enables the change to sustain. Without the use of technology, Lean will not become the mainstream management system. It will remain limited to being something that small teams adopt from time to time to create islands of improvement. Lean should not be about islands of improvement; it should be the core operating culture throughout every organization.