Five steps to bridging the gap between IT and lean
A major stumbling block for many companies seeking to go lean is the ongoing disconnect between manufacturing and IT departments around the topic of lean.
Manufacturing people expect IT people to have an innate understanding of lean, and how systems should be implemented to support it. Unfortunately, very few IT people have much more than a rudimentary understanding of how the philosophical natures of lean and transaction-oriented systems are actually at odds.
The good news is a growing number of IT leaders recognize the value that lean can bring to a business and they are looking for ways of delivering the appropriate systems to lean practitioners. A pragmatic approach to bridging the gap between lean and IT would encompass these five steps:
|Enterprise vendors with lean solutions sets see lean processes as blending with enterprise functions such as portals, purchasing, and order management.|
1. Have IT people learn lean concepts.
First things first: It sounds obvious, but far too many IT professionals could not describe lean fundamentals if their jobs depended upon it, which actually is becoming the case. The futures of their companies depend upon it too. Are you both a lean practitioner and an IT specialist? I know there are some with both skills out there today, but I‘m convinced the number is low.
2. Develop a common view.
Lean isn’t the same everywhere, nor should it be. While there is certainly a standard philosophy, there are differences in models. At a detail level, the Toyota Production System (TPS) is quite different from Demand Flow Technology (DFT). The former is much more predominant in volume and standardized production environments, while the latter is used a great deal more in configured product manufacture. As a result, the process flows, data requirements, and transaction needs can be quite different. IT and the lean practitioners must come together to develop a common understanding of the models being used (TPS/DFT) and the optimum level of support.
3. Develop a consistent language and common goals.
Make sure everyone sees the goals in the same way: what the customer sees as value. Beyond cost, product quality, and on-time delivery, many organizations consider reliability of supply, collaborative engineering, and design and information sharing across the supply chain as value propositions for their customers.
4. Show practitioners how ERP supports lean .
For starters I’d encourage all lean practitioners to examine ERP applications to understand how far into lean the ERP world has come. Lean actually has become a basic capability within many ERP systems. A big problem for many manufacturing professionals is their knowledge of ERP is based on an implementation that may be five to 10 years old. This is probably especially true of the incumbent ERP supplier in your own shop.
5. Find your support level.
It is far too common to see organizations succeed with well implemented Lean initiatives at the shop-floor level but stop well short of using it across multiple plants or even corporate strategy. Localized projects aren’t going to reshape the IT infrastructure or get the push they need in IT if that is the case.
Figure out who in the organization actually has a vision of how IT and lean come together. When you ask a person running a line what they need for application or information support, I doubt you’ll hear about corporate dashboards, integrated quality metrics, or supplier portals.
I’m not saying that any one person has the answer. Rather, you must understand how far up in your organization lean initiatives are well understood, supported, and ultimately, funded. At the end of the day, lean cannot achieve its potential if it continues as a PC-based, grassroots initiative. Only by combining executive vision and viable enterprise-class tools will IT be able to deliver on the promise.
Now is the time for lean pros to build upon their operating successes. IT execs new to lean initiatives should not be intimidated by the challenge. Remember, lean is founded on the principles of continuous improvement. This is a journey that will show some immediate benefits, but will most likely unfold as a three- to five-year project. Start the journey by ensuring you are all going to the same place.