The structure and goals of Lean programs vary widely depending on the nature of the organization implementing them. In manufacturing, a Lean program might aim to improve the productivity or throughput of a plant. In software development, a Lean program might aim to reduce lead times, allowing the organization to release features faster with fewer defects.
In either case, these Lean programs could involve a value stream mapping activity, followed by the introduction of continuous improvement methods that would help the organization reach a more ideal state. Continuous improvement tools and methods that might be included in a Lean program include:
- Lean metrics
- Workflow management
- Process improvement
- Consistent improvements
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Workflow Management with Kanban
Kanban is a workflow management tool that allows individuals, teams, and their managers to synchronize their efforts around a shared understanding of where work is. The first step to getting started with Kanban is to identify the steps in your process. Then, you can design a Kanban board that reflects your process. After using this board for a while and working out its kinks, you can begin to experiment with ways to improve the flow of work across the board. Kanban is an incredibly powerful tool that provides structure to any Lean program, and can help kickstart your continuous improvement efforts.
Using Lean Metrics to Drive Improvement Efforts
After implementing Kanban, many teams begin using Lean metrics to inform data-driven decision making when prioritizing their continuous improvement efforts. Lean metrics provide valuable insights into your team or organization’s speed, efficiency, and productivity.
Digital Kanban boards can capture these metrics as you move work through your process, so gathering them requires no additional effort. Some helpful Lean metrics to analyze include:
- Work-in-process, or WIP
- Cumulative flow diagrams
Lean metrics can shape the direction of your organization’s Lean program, highlighting areas that need attention and allowing teams to proactively tackle process issues before they cause larger problems in the system.
Holding Consistent Standups at Every Level
Standups are an important part of any Lean program. These frequent, consistent meetings provide teams with an opportunity to surface problems, ask for help, change the scope or direction of a piece of work, respond to shifting external factors, etc. Teams at any level of the organization can benefit from the increased opportunities for communication, collaboration, and cohesion that consistent standups provide.
Pausing to Learn with Retrospectives
Retrospectives are held after an event has occurred, such as a campaign, project, program, or an actual event, to discuss what happened, how to improve, and what changes need to be made moving forward. These are rare opportunities to surface the underlying issues that can seriously jeopardize Lean programs. It’s an open forum to voice concerns, acknowledge each other’s efforts, and reflect on our performance before jumping into our next challenge.
Challenges of Lean Program Implementation
Especially in large, complex organizations, Lean program implementation can be challenging. Delivering a consistent message, implementing practices, tools, and methods consistently, and ensuring that employees have sufficient Lean knowledge to implement a Lean program effectively can all be setbacks. The most successful Lean program examples we’ve seen are those who take the time to implement Lean thoughtfully, master the basics, and maintain a culture of continuous improvement even when conflict arises.