Like so many that started learning and implementing lean in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I started applying lean principles and concepts in manufacturing. I spent nearly 15 years applying lean thinking in a manufacturing environment. I absolutely loved seeing the immediate change in material flow or the feedback from operators that someone listened to them and they were able to make things better.
It is no secret. A manufacturing environment is a tangible environment to see the improvements and get quicker feedback back on how you are applying lean thinking because of the immediate visual results.
A couple of years ago, I moved from the manufacturing environment to the office/project management environment. This was quite a change and one I looked at as a new challenge. I took it on. I have worked with product development and retail management teams. Not even thinking twice as to what I was doing…until recently.
This summer I took on the role of project manager. I am managing the deployment of technology to our retail environments. The changes are not as immediate and not as visual as a manufacturing environment. After a while, I questioned whether I was still applying lean principles to my work. Finally, I took a step back to have a serious reflection and what I discovered is my previous 15+ years have engrained the thinking and principles without realizing it.
I have been directly observing the work as activities, connections and flows by sitting with the teams developing and testing the technology. I see how the work and how the product works. I have gone to a few retail stores to see the technology being used so I can bring those observations back to the team. I also went to other retail stores using similar technology and talked with the store managers about what is working and what isn’t working for them.
The principle of systematic problem solving comes to light with using visual boards to status the project and highlight the problems that need to be worked on in the next 24-48 hrs. We are trying to surface the problems quickly, so they can be resolved. We have broken the issues down into categories to know which are the highest priority.
Systematic waste elimination comes from defining new processes that will continue once the project is launched. We are working to improve and make them as efficient as we know how today.
Each day at standup, we are establishing high agreement on what we are going to be working on and how we will go about working on it. This establishes clear ownership of the work and an expected due date.
Finally, we are learning about the product, the technology and our processes with every iteration. Getting feedback incorporated into the product as quickly as possible.
The reflection helped me understand how I am using the lean principles everyday even if it is not in a tangible manufacturing environment.
How about you? In what type of environment are you using the lean principles?
Whenever doing work with another group or person, it is very important that everyone has agreement with what needs to be done and how it will be done. Discussions happen between the parties and everyone seems to agree. Then people go off and do the work and the next time the two parties meet there are odd looks and comments about that was not what the other person meant.
Recently, I wrote about the benefits of writing an A3 around problem solving. When agreeing to what work will be done and who will do it, writing it down in an A3 format is very beneficial also. The A3 can help foster a discussion about what was really meant. Seeing the thoughts on paper in text or drawings makes it easier to communicate.
Another benefit I have found, is when there are disagreements and the thoughts are written on paper the focus seems to be on the content and not the person. It doesn’t completely eliminate somebody wanting to attack a person and become defensive, but it does help to reduce the likely hood of this happening.
The more people can communicate verbally using a written format, such as an A3, to enhance the discussion the easier it will be for people to agree on what needs to be done and how it will be done. And the next time the groups meet, the better chance of their being no misunderstanding as to the work that was done.