Lean AND Agile
A recent trend in Lean Consulting projects has been the need to add ‘agility’ into the mix.
Historically, Lean interventions have focussed on eliminating waste and building efficiency through process mapping, removing the low value added work, developing a future state process and implementation via a transition plan. Based on the TPS (Toyota Production System), Lean has successfully brought efficiency gains, usually in manufacturing industries. For the past four years, ALC has also been applying lean skills learned from the automotive sector into other manufacturing and service businesses. Increasingly though, we’re being asked not just to simplify and standardise processes but also to ensure flexibility and responsiveness are built in too.
So, what’s driving this industry trend?
Looking into other industry sectors, we note that Apple have launched the Apple Watch whilst Tag-Heuer are venturing into smart watches, wearable technology is challenging fashion on the catwalk whilst cloud computing is revolutionising traditional IT services.
In parallel with the blurring of product portfolios, there seems to be a blending of management practices too. Whilst the hi tech companies are exploring more capital intensive, manufacturing territory, more traditional businesses have been modernising their practices by demanding quicker development cycles, shorter lead times and agile processes to align their businesses with IT levels of responsiveness. This is a healthy cross pollination of sector best practice, but how do we build agility and responsiveness into our normal business process?
Long winded procedures need to be broken up and re-written into standardised modular processes and waiting times stripped out of them wherever possible. Job demarcation is replaced with blended roles to develop flexible, multi-skilled teams working to Just In Time principles. Kaizen and visible management systems become the norm. The result is not just more efficient processes, but through the introduction of inter-changeability of staff according to demand we also develop the flexibility and scaleability to cope with the market dynamics of short product lifecycles and double digit growth curves.
Interestingly, responsiveness has been a key requirement in one of ALC’s most recent projects: re-working insurance processes. However in the highly regulated world of insurance, we’ve needed to counter the pace (as measured by speed of delivery) with strict control of the revised modular processes. The combination of mistake proofing (poke-yoke), peer group audit and sign off has provided a good balance of pace with auditable control.