Applied Lean Consulting

Driving Efficiency in Business
Learn MoreContact Us

ALC’s ARTICLE SERIES

Lean AND Agile

A recent trend in Lean Consulting projects has been the need to add ‘agility’ into the mix.

Historically, Lean interventions have focused 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?

Some recent developments in the Automotive sector include:

  • Google announcing their intent to launch a driverless car, and posting a direct challenge to the more traditional automotive sector.
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems giving smart phone integration into vehicle operations as demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
  • Tesla is already spanning hi-tech and traditional automotive sectors with the Model S which receives software upgrades automatically via wireless download.
  • Audi and Mercedes demonstrating their own self-drive cars at CES Whilst GM has extended it’s co-operation with AT&T into Europe to launch it’s on-line assistance program, OnStar.

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.

Including agile responsiveness in the consultancy mix is a welcome addition to the Lean toolbox.

Heracles is quoted as saying, “The only constant in this world is change.” Bring it on, we’re ready!