To enterprises which are on the ‘lean’ journey, the advice of Craig Hergenroether – the Chief Information Officer of Barry Wehmiller Companies, Inc. in the U.S. ( >http://bit.ly/F4TCraigH) – is simple: Elevate ‘lean’ to the role of a collaboration tool. It is a means of engaging the minds of your associates, and then you begin to see the full potential of lean, assures Craig, during a recent interaction with Business Line. We continue our conversation over email.
Excerpts from the interview.
Why is IT relevant to lean manufacturing?
The question is a bit misleading in that I would tell you it is better phrased by asking, ‘What function is not relevant to lean principles?’ All too often lean is viewed as a fix to manufacturing problems. By ridding ourselves of waste and streamlining operations, we target primarily costs, and to some degree efficiency, in our quest to improve the bottom line. But lean practices are really about engaging people in a collaborative effort to improve their surroundings.
When viewed from this perspective you can readily see a disconnect from the purpose of lean and the practice of lean. This perhaps is why so very many implementations fail. They are never made a part of the DNA of an organisation but rather serve as a tool to meet a very short-term objective. The participants will surely see that the effort is not to their benefit but to the company’s.
At Barry-Wehmiller we are attempting to view our responsibilities as a company in a more meaningful and hopefully more rewarding way. We view the business paradigm to be more than generating profits for our shareholders. This is critically important in the pursuit of a sustainable business model but it is but one objective. Equally important is our responsibility to our associates – to provide an environment of trust and responsible freedom that allows them to exercise their minds and to feel fulfilled at the end of the day versus simply having tolerated another day at work.
Lean practices ideally suit this approach. It calls upon people to come together to be heard and “listened to” in an environment where not only will their ideas be put into practice but for which they will receive recognition. More importantly they are treated as whole individuals versus simply as “labour”.
Every function is tied to the lean process. The factory floor is the traditional playground of lean activities but every department can apply the principles in the silo of their own function. The greater benefit comes from understanding that a change to how a part is engineered, purchased, made, shipped and financed are all intertwined. By bringing people from multiple functions into the process, you bring the experience and insight of people who can improve the process to bear on the issue.
Can you give an example of how IT has made a difference to lean?
Lean is very much into simple visibility. Boards that can be readily viewed by everyone – lots of visibility! Reports buried in computers are not great for collaborative and dynamic activities. This was certainly true in the past and one can appreciate the introduction of manual boards to get people’s attention.
But becoming a Luddite is not the solution – it is simply another extreme. The key is to use technology in support of the lean initiatives. With the large flat screens and our ability to dynamically stream just pertinent information, you can still have people collaborate in groups, dynamically change data, and maintain accountability. IT was always intended to be a tool in support of people – somewhere along the line we turned over our reason to the “system” – never a good idea.
What are the challenges to integrating IT in lean thinking?
I have had debates with our lean experts who would argue that you need to strip all automation (IT) from a process to truly understand it. The greatest fear in inviting IT to the table is that they will look to automate the existing rather than simplify to essential state.
I believe IT, like every function, brings a unique and helpful perspective to the process. By their very nature they have to break processes down to logical steps in order to program it. When looking to disassemble processes you not only need to disassemble the components but challenge the purpose for their being there at all. Inviting the various other functions, including IT, allows you to bring in the historical, anecdotal as well as “tribal” knowledge.
Is there a case also for lean in IT?
Every functional department in the back office can benefit as much as the operations on the shop floor or in production control. We (IT) view our “product” as a series of services we provide to the organisation. For instance, we had a group that prided itself on its ability to deploy new equipment (computers) in 24 to 48 hours. They measured it so they had proof. But they were measuring the wrong thing.
The speed of deployment is important but only within the greater context of delivering a great customer experience. When they took the deployment through the lean process they discovered that they would get a machine out quickly but then return, time and again, to add things missed, to patch issues and to train the users on the use of new features that inevitably come with new or upgraded systems. By this measurement we were doing a poor job. This review allowed us to greatly improve the process.
Source : http://www.thehindu.com/business/Elevate-lsquoleanrsquo-to-be-the-collaboration-tool/article14685564.ece#!986