We sometimes think that Lean & Agile is all about scaling back, in a context of removing “stuff” or unnecessary processes. However using Lean and Agile can help us grow. The leaner we are, the faster we can react to the market place, not just in terms of change, but in terms of growth. Industries such as digital tech, online food retail, takeaways, insurance, banking have increased significantly during the recent crisis.
The Brexit position has become more uncertain and business confidence dropped further, even though the UK is still outperforming other EU nations such as Italy and Germany in terms of growth. This vindicates more than ever the need for a “Lean” approach with businesses more agility in the market place. Continue reading “Getting Clearer on Productivity”→
In the line of work I do, there is a constant drive for productivity and efficiency. This clearly has its benefits, but it can be a hidden hindrance. As we rush to clear our job lists, key activities and work to have impact with our strategic goals, we have very little time to step back. This may sound obvious, and the principles of effective time management are well established, but what are the unintended consequences of this “hurried” or “rushed” state we create for ourselves? I use the word “ourselves” because even though our plates are filled by others, we have the power to control our environs. Continue reading “Productivity Inhibits Curiosity”→
There was a very interesting article in this months HBR by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini titled “The End of Bureaucracy” with an interesting example of how a Chinese company Haier, has adopted a very interesting business model to make it more efficient and agile in the market place. They have adopted the concept of ME (Microenterprises), whereby there are over 4000, each with 10-15 employees that serve the company both internally and externally. Continue reading “Bureaucracy – Fighting the “Waste” where appropriate.”→
I am always amazed at what improvement potential there is for organisations, even profitable and well established ones. There is a perception that they are well down their “Lean” Journey, and that they have made significant improvements, whether it be through technology or process development. Organisations are rarely as well developed as they think they are, of course this breeds complacency. Maintaining the improvement “hunger” is a real challenge in large companies. Continue reading “The Difference Between Performing Organisations & Great Ones”→
I read an interesting recent article in the Harvard Business Review about highly productive people. It was explaining the typical traits of these. These can range from being able to set stretch goals, showing consistency, maintaining focus, problem solving and may others. In our profession we spend a considerable amount of time working on productive work systems, but less time generally about productive people. Continue reading “Super Productive People”→
There are numerous definitions of productivity, and a significant proportion of them are related to a company’s KPI’s in some form or other. If we take manufacturing as an easy example, these can be visualised as kg/hr , £/month or RFT (Right first Time) if we cover the elements of production, sales and quality. All of these have a direct relationship with the bottom line, and the cost of product made. However KPI’s are also important in the “transactional” environment such as the administration arm of a company, or in say financial services. Processing documents can be a significant proportion of any process, and errors or tardiness will also negatively effect the bottom line.
It sometimes feels as though we have entered a period of total doom and gloom with the global political turmoil, trade tariffs in the US, Brexit discussions etc. However the UK manufacturing sector is a lot more buoyant than the wider public may feel. I was lucky enough to attend two recent UK manufacturing events. At the MTA (Manufacturing Technology Association) annual dinner, the participants were extremely energised about the future opportunities and using technology such as AI to gear up for performance improvements and significantly helping UK manufactured goods. It was a similar story during a recent visit to the MTC (Manufacture Technology Centre) in Coventry. They are anticipating an upsurge in demand for their services including process support, prototyping and any other advanced manufacturing techniques post Brexit, as the UK will have to be potentially less reliant on non UK suppliers. These are premier manufacturing support hubs /platforms with a consistent message. A similar message was coming from another recent consultation briefing I attended on freight and logistics for the EA region. There is a shortfall in skilled labour to support these activities and companies in the supply chain sector are also clamouring, like the manufacturing sector, for more relevant training and education, both in the colleges and the universities. There was a sense that the new Apprenticeship Level Degree might go some way to meeting these needs, and both educationalists and employers in the room felt that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”.
Reverting back to the current global volatility, this the opportunity to re-think everything, both manufacturing itself and related education to meet the demands of the future. This is now the next incarnation of “Lean Thinking”, and requires the relentless pursuit of waste elimination, employee engagement, collaboration and challenging behaviours. There is a new programme, National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels (NMCL), created by the Government-sponsored Automotive Council and Aerospace Growth Partnership bodies as well as the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) and Aerospace, Defence, Securities and Space (ADS) trade associations. The purpose is to promote cross-sector learning, and the MTC have also been already facilitating the programmes with shared research, learning and development at the highest end, while respecting individual company IP.
This is a massive opportunity for the UK and, if others countries follow suit, an opportunity for them. Given that a lot of the work that these development hubs do is based on AI and digitisation, this is totally consistent with Industry 4.0 and what is termed as the fourth incarnation of the industrial revolution.
I was heartened to see that our UK PM, in her Davos Speech, wants to create a “Centre of Excellence” in the UK with respect to AI. There are certainly some huge opportunities to improve our UK productivity and make our lives easier. This was also reinforced with the recent “Sales Assistant Free” shop that Amazon have piloted in the US, and the new scanning till piloted in North London. However, any new idea or technology requires acceptance before it can implemented fully or properly. This is more pertinent than ever because with the ever increasing “Robotisation” comes fear of job losses. We first had it with blue collar in manufacturing and engineering, then in white collar with low level transactional work, but we are now progressing into higher end transactional work. Large law firms are already using AI to scan databases of previous contracts in order to automatically come up with first revision new contracts for a particular client. We are in a rapidly changing world where VUCA applies, and it is the survival of the most adaptable, not the fittest. We have already seen huge productivity gains related to tech in the UK, and AI is the next step.
I was lucky enough to attend a recent IoD Suffolk AI event at Adastral Science Park in Ipswich where there are over 90 tech companies working on AI and related work. The speakers were very engaging, and Kevin Gooding of OXEMS, who has considerable experience of mass technology change roll-outs and working on IoT solutions, stated that the technology functionality is usually way ahead of the humans, and the adoption rate historically is very slow. This is a double edged sword. On the one hand, we want adoption rate to be fast in order to minimise barriers to productivity improvement, but also we need to ensure workers do not feel left out or alienated. I see this is as one of the greatest challenges going forward i.e., finding that sweet spot between the two. Everything is a balance, but this is where senior leaders have to step up to the plate and be honest about tech advances and the impact on society. It has been refreshing that both Sir Charlie Mayfield Chairman of John Lewis Partnership, and Juergen Maier CEO of Siemens UK have been talking about the need for open dialogue with employees, and both the challenges and opportunities for AI.
As consultants in this arena we are going to have to gear up for the changes, not just from a technology perspective but from an employee engagement success perspective.
Some commentators have said that “Lean” has had it’s day, with the majority of western manufacturers, and those in the developing world, having run lean and similar programmes. These programmes show up under other guises such as “Production Systems” and “Operational Excellence”. However the fundamentals of these are founded in Lean . Lean has always been about continuous improvement and development.