There has been a plethora of management ideas and philosophies over the past 50 years. One of the most transformational has been Lean Manufacturing because it has changed the way we think about and plan production. In recent years we have seen Lean principles adopted in many service industries.
While many of the Lean tools appear to be common sense, there hasn’t been a huge change in the Lean principles in recent years. What is the future of Lean then? As senior management embraces new technologies and as Lean experts incorporate technological advancements into Lean principles, I believe the Lean landscape will become very exciting.
Data-led decision-making will become easier. We now capture vast amounts of data but many organisations are not able to fully harness all of that information to drive their Lean thinking. Frontline problem solving will become much easier as we access the insights available from data.
Mobile computing delivers powerful knowledge to workers via smartphones and tablets. Information that previously took a week to be circulated is now available on demand at all levels of an organisation. Wait times and machine downtime will be drastically reduced as the speed of information delivery continues to increase.
The next generation of employees – Gen Y who were born between 1985 and 2004 – are used to having information at their fingertips. They are the most technologically savvy generation and I am confident they will take the Lean tools and integrate them with technology that will deliver efficiencies, cost savings and innovations that we never imagined.
The diagnostic process will evolve and employees will be armed with better tools to collect information and diagnose problems. Advanced robotics and telematics will see intelligent equipment that is able to identify issues before they occur, schedule maintenance and apply rapid changeovers. 3D printers are already changing the manufacturing landscape and will continue to innovate the industry.
The customer is still the core
Regardless of the future of Lean, we must always remember our customers and the importance of understanding what they need and what they are willing to pay for. Once we have that knowledge, the next step is to meet the customers’ needs efficiently while keeping employees engaged by allowing their contributions to shine. Communication and continuous improvement will always be an important element of Lean, regardless of the technological advancements available. No organisation can achieve its potential if it can’t align its strategy with workforce goals.
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