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3 Takeaways from AME for Integrating Digital Tools into Lean Programs

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Digital Integration

The Association for Manufacturing Excellence’s Chicago event was full of insight for improvement, and we couldn’t help but notice the case being made for integrating digital solutions that support people and Lean programs. The key to this integration is bringing together technology and human intelligence to support one another.

Adaptive information systems present major opportunities for improvement, so long as they are led by processes that emphasize using technology to support, not replace, people. But succeeding in this integration also means organizations must stop viewing the IT department only as a support center or overhead cost. Instead, IT must become a key component in driving an organization’s operations and Lean programs.

Here are some of the takeaways from the event for strategically integrating IT solutions that support workers.

Keep it short and simple

Want to invest in a new tech solution? Great! But don’t make an expensive investment because technology is the wave of the future. If considering a technology intervention, first talk to your frontline to rule out ways to simplify processes that does not require automation. Think of this as putting “creativity before capital.” Once you’ve ruled out simple process improvements, you’ll typically have clearer understanding of requirements and can make a more strategic business case for technology investments.

Another way of simplifying process improvements is to break large projects down into manageable chunks. In fact, this approach can deliver more value, with higher quality and less risk, faster. That’s because once you’ve deployed the first small iteration of your project, you have the opportunity to measure and make adjustments. You also gain more evidence to support a business case for future improvements.

Make it engaging

With skilled labor shortages across many industries, employee engagement has become more important than ever. Consider these tips from the conference for engaging your employees in Lean:

Companies must adapt to their workers, rather than vice versa

As keynote presenter, and expert on digital transformation and modern leadership, Andrew Au notes, many companies’ customer-centric approach isolates their most value asset?—?employees. Ultimately, companies that adapt processes to meet workers’ needs will better serve their customers. For example, before investing in digital solutions, work with employees to understand their specific challenges.

Keep it visual

If you’re looking to improve processes, start by really looking at those processes. An easy-to-understand visual can help frontline workers make sense of workflow and make problems more rapidly visible. This might start with a pen on whiteboard; more in-depth projects can take advantage of the benefits of an electronic dashboard. While electronic dashboards have been used in the past as command centers for management, these digital tools are extending to frontline employees for more applicable process insight.

Try gamification

Gamification is all about applying motivational or educational game elements to non-game scenarios. Through these game-like elements, people are pushed to develop new skills, solve problems or change behaviors.  A few ways companies use gamification include:

  • Game simulation that trains employees to perform new tasks. Through simulation, employees can build up skills without any risk of mistakes.
  • Digital leaderboards that track achievements and encourage friendly competition in suggesting or implementing improvements.
  • Process flow cards that help employees understand Lean concepts. Workers can take this hands-on insight and apply it to their own process workflows.

The goal is to motivate people by putting them at the center of the continuous improvement system. Through the game, players become aligned with the bigger Lean ideas and learn to facilitate flow through play.

Watch the data

Want to know the next big trend? Watch the data. Au predicted that companies will see growing use of AI to predict and analyze future trends. AI will eventually become a part of any digital transformation in order to help companies make sense of rapidly evolving consumer demands and keep them ahead of the next trend.

Today, the biggest demand is for customization. Because smart manufacturing allows for more just-in-time production, consumers are beginning to look beyond “I want it now” to “I want exactly as specified.” Consumers are willing to pay more for this option, and manufacturers will need to adopt the right technology to keep up.

Make a plan

Digital solutions hold great promise for driving Lean programs forward, but only if applied strategically. When combined with an already effective employee engagement program, digital solutions can help organizations respond faster and more flexibly to future changes.

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