Lean And The Age Of AI And Robotics

The advent of technology has developed in such a powerful way that nothing could remain the same. The beginning of the XXI century completely changed the way we perceive work, so much that it’s almost impossible to imagine a workplace without some type of AI. The global market has also undergone radical changes in the past few decades; this has also significantly contributed to the rise of AI and robotics in Lean management implementation.

The Connection Between Lean Management and Technology

With the development of the Internet and machine technology, work has changed in such a way that it’s now very hard to keep track with it. Innovations and breakthroughs occur on a daily basis, and every good company should do its best to make good use of this. By implementing AI into the work process, your company can profit in numerous ways. You will be able to:

  • track the work process down to the last detail
  • recognize the weak spots and bad links within the company
  • optimize the operational process according to the workload
  • conduct an efficient assessment on a regular basis
  • make accurate predictions

Over the past several decades, some companies were slow on implementing technology in Lean management, and they’ve all suffered considerably because of it. By failing to do this efficiently, these companies gambled with their future in the market. In today’s world, it is crucial not to make this mistake.

The Benefits of Using AI and Robotics in Lean Management 

There are numerous benefits of implementing AI and robotics in Lean management of your work process:

  • Lower cost of work. It actually costs less than paying employees, especially in the long run; it can be more reliable, more efficient and more productive.
  • Independence. It doesn’t depend on the majority of external factors, which means an increase in the overall productivity. It is practically not affected by distractions, work fatigue, or drop in standardized production values.
  • De-stressed employees. If the majority of the work process is automated, workers have more time to spend on creative tasks; they also don’t have to worry about every single detail, which means they can focus on the “big picture”.
  • High precision and accuracy. There is no fear of error-making, since everything is automated and worked out down to the core level. For example, robots are much more effective at detecting than humans, and software is much more reliable when it comes to data assessment or data storage.
  • Increased employee safety. The risk of work injury is much lower due to the automated aspects of the work process. Once programmed, AI can commit virtually no errors; thus, it makes the workplace much safer for the employees.

What Does a Company Need in Order to Implement AI and Robotics?

The most important thing a company needs is skilled workforce. With the advent of modern technologies, the entire work process has altered – and the need for old-time employees is gone. Nowadays workers need to possess a different mindset and a modern skillset; otherwise, they won’t be able to adjust to the requirements of the modern-age technology.

For example, there will be less and less need for repetitive human work; instead, humans will need to expand their knowledge in terms of machine-control and process management. This doesn’t mean that the importance of human labor will be diminished – just the contrary. The only difference will be in the roles human workforce assumes. Humans will have to learn more technical skills, but there will be a greater need for those who haven’t been able to contribute enough in the past (e.g. people with disabilities).

A company also needs a solid business plan. Without a detailed plan, the implementation process might not go as planned. This is why it’s important to invest enough time into the preparation for the implementation process.

What Are Some Examples of AI/Robot Implementation in Lean Management?

Telecommuting

This is one of the most well-known examples of integrating technology into the work process. Since there is no need for employees to be physically present at the place of work, they can complete their tasks using mobile communications, such as phones or laptop/desktop computers.

Industrial Robots

By being programmed, automated and independent, industrial robots can accomplish their tasks with much more efficiency and accuracy than humans. Industrial robots significantly speed up the work process, which is reflected in a company’s economic impact.

Machine-Learning Platform

This type of technology is widely used in various industries, and its main advantage is a significant contribution to prediction, classification, and assessment. Thus, a computer system gradually develops while “learning”. As a direct result of this, work performance on a specific task grows exponentially.

Decision Management

Decision management has a goal of automating a company’s decision-making system as much as possible, through the use predictive analytics and similar software solutions. As a result of this, the cost of decision-making within a company drops significantly, whereas the overall efficiency grows.

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Lean Principles In An Office Environment

In order to make the most of what Lean has to offer, you should start from your office environment as the core of your work process. Once you effectively implement Lean into your offices, everything will fall into place, and you will notice a significant rise in your productivity.

Why is Lean important in an office environment?

The simplest explanation would be that Lean is there to increase the work process speed and reduce waste as much as possible. By helping accomplish this, it will add value to every task performed and, ultimately, will increase the productivity of the company as a whole.

The work process speed is increased by cutting away everything that slows it down, such as unwanted or unnecessary tasks. Waste reduction is achieved through elimination of everything that is considered waste in an office environment:

  • Processing errors (general rework, missing information, lost files, etc.).
  • Uncontrolled production cycles (producing too much or too little, depending on the business strategy).
  • Idle time (awaiting approvals, delays in the work process, being late, etc.).
  • Unnecessary motion (staff members moving around the workplace without any particular need or connection to their given tasks).

Why should you implement Lean in your office?

First of all, Lean will help you easily identify all the problem areas in your work surroundings. You will spend significantly less time on figuring out what to do, and you will have a clearer understanding of your potential business strategy.

Furthermore, you will increase your efficiency and save a lot of financial resources along the way. Once your office environment becomes “Lean-friendly”, all of your staff members will know exactly what they need to do, and their targets will be met much more effectively. By doing away with everything that is redundant, you will be able to focus on the essential aspects of your work process; in turn, this will cut costs and contribute to your financial wellbeing.

Also, implementing Lean into your office areas will simplify the entire work process for your company. You will have a much clearer picture of the priorities, while the paperwork gets cut down to the bare minimum. Lean principles are excellent when it comes to prioritizing work tasks within a given process. You will find the most logical way in which to perform a certain task and, as a direct result of this, the whole work process will flourish.

Once Lean practices are fully integrated into your work process, the morale of your employees will become stronger. They will know exactly what they are doing, and the entire working atmosphere will be much better.

How to implement Lean in an office environment?

1. Redefining meetings

Business meetings have to be as short and effective as possible. A good practice would be to set a strict time for meetings within each working area (department, section, etc.) and to maintain the meeting schedule on a continuous basis.

Enough time should pass between two meetings, in order to improve their effectiveness. Each meeting should have only a couple of topics on the agenda, or only one topic – the most important one. During the meeting, only relevant questions should be asked.

2. Introducing the 5S Principle

This is a Lean principle for structuring the work process through strict categories and sub-categories for better work optimization.

  • Sorting – separating the necessary from the unnecessary
  • Simplifying – doing away with everything that makes the work process complicated
  • Shining (cleaning) – regular cleaning and inspection of the office area
  • Standardizing – establishing strict guidelines for keeping the work area organized and fully-functioning
  • Sustaining – keeping the office productivity on a certain level, and coming up with new ways for improvement
3. Ongoing employee education

Organizing workshops, seminars, lectures and educational classes for all staff members, making sure they are all fully engaged and attentive.

This way, employees will be highly informed on the new developments within their industry, and they will be more capable of focusing on their daily tasks in the most productive way possible.

4. Employee cross-training

By being cross-trained for multiple positions, employees can:

  • learn a set of different skills
  • become more aware of the entire work process
  • understand the importance of every work task
  • increase their own work flexibility
  • stay focused and motivated throughout the work week
  • become deeply engaged in the work process
  • develop problem-solving abilities
  • value the importance of teamwork
  • embrace company culture and work ethics
  • increase company productivity on a continuous basis

These are just some of the Lean principles for an office environment, but even small changes can bring considerable improvements to any office environment.

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What is Lean?

Lean is an approach for waste eliminating within a variety of processes. A Lean organisation cares about the customer value and focuses on increasing it continuously. The ultimate goal is to deliver perfect value to the customers through a process that has no waste! Simply – maximizing customer value and eliminating waste.

It has two main intentions: to satisfy the customers and to do so profitably. The customer satisfaction is what Lean focuses on at all times. If what they do does not provide value to the customer, it’s a waste! Lean’s practitioners often make a wasteful process more efficient and end up getting better at other tasks that they didn’t even consider at first.

What Is Waste?

This is a good question since the majority of the “product” is in the minds of employees. In Lean, waste is defined as activity, product, or process that does not enhance value to the customer. Some sources of waste are:

  •  Unused employee ability: Not involving employees in process developments
  • Overproduction: Generating tests, reports, and other unnecessary analyses
  • Defects: Rework due to mistaken requirements or inputs; mistakes in trying to fix the problem
  • Waiting: Waiting for input, feedback, or decisions,
  • Inventory: Uncompleted analyses, tests, and reports
  • Over-processing: Needless tasks, activities, and processes

Employing Lean to any organisation can boost productivity, provide a systematic method for process improvement, and reduce uncertainty.

Lean Development

The history of Lean goes back many years. Lean Manufacturing is a name that has been around for a while now, originally created within the book The Machine That Changed the World by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos.

Lean originated with Henry Ford and his storied assembly line. However, the philosophy we know today really starts with Taiichi Ohno who methodized the Lean Management Philosophy and Practices into the Toyota Production System.

Toyota set out to be better than the rest of the US Automobile Industry. They achieved their success particularly through the application of Lean Manufacturing Tools and the Lean Principles. So, it’s safe to say that Lean begins with Toyota and the expansion of the TPS. The term was actually coined to describe Toyota’s business by the research team headed by Womack.

What Is Lean Really for?

To understand what Lean really is, you first need to understand why it was developed. Lean was developed to improve efficiency by simplifying the operational structure to understand, manage, and perform the work environment. Lean emphasizes the significance of optimizing workflow through strategic procedures while eliminating waste and being adjustable. All these concepts have to be approved by employees who create the products and start processes that provide value.

Every process contains some element of waste if it has not gone through Lean multiple times. If done properly, Lean can create vast improvements in productivity, material costs, and cycle time. Reducing waste along whole value streams produces processes that need less space, capital, and time. This leads to services and products with lower costs and fewer defects when compared with traditional business systems.

The companies are then capable to answer the changing desires of the customer with high quality and variety, low cost, and fast turnaround. In addition, information management becomes more accurate and simpler.

Although Lean developed mainly within manufacturing, it is not restricted to it. Today, it is applied to almost every industry. It is evenly applicable to service industries like healthcare or within office-based administrative functions. It can improve client interaction, inventory management, and teamwork.

Lean for Production and Services

So, it is a common misconception that Lean is fitted only for manufacturing. It is suited for every business and production process. Lean is a way of thinking and acting for the organisations, not just a cost reduction program. Lean thinking can structure the organisations from the ground up. Nowadays, the teams, companies, and organisations are encouraged to seek third-party experts who can offer coaching and advice.

Lean is used by businesses in all services and industries, including governments and healthcare. For example, American healthcare organisations such as Virginia Mason Medical Center and ThedaCare, have been working on their “Lean transformation journey” for over 10 years. Many others are in their early stages of applying Lean to improving doctor offices, hospitals, and dental practices.

Lean is the way a company operates, not just a short-term cost reduction program. The term Lean Transformation is used to brand an organisation moving from an old way of thinking to Lean thinking. It transforms the whole way on how a company manages a business. It is about making problems noticeable and widening your team members’ critical thinking ability, which will help them solve the problems and enhance work processes.

Lean can be used to manage several other office processes for manufacturing companies, like cutting the time for closing the books at the end of each quarter. Thus, the management aspects of Lean are possibly more important than the actual methodologies or tools of production themselves.

Lean Software Development

Lean has also been adapted to the software world, including “agile” software development and the wider term “Lean software development.” This led to the “Lean Startup” program that uses Lean Principles not just to the software and technology development efforts, but also to the design and constant development of the business aspect of a company.

What is more, Lean is even being used in financial services firms and law firms. It is also used in military, state, city, and federal government levels. Lean is also being used in universities and public schools.

Lean Engineering

Lean engineering helps organisations become more competitive and original while optimizing resource proficiency and saving money. It is an approach to engineering that influences

  • creation and management of engineering intelligence
  • team structures and processes
  • technologies used to optimize for proficiency, and
  • leadership practices within engineering organisations.

It eliminates waste while creating more value for the customer.

Lean is a constantly developing philosophy and because its function is different for each company. The good news is that every company has a great opportunity to advance using the Lean techniques.

 

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