There was a recent Industry Week article worth mentioning titled Top Ten Mobile Solutions for Lean Manufacturing. Written by June Ruby a Director of Mobile Solutions at Motorola, it seems curiously like a sales pitch. However, the article does examine a number of areas where mobile technologies can improve productivity. In general these are areas where inventory transactions, data collection, and communication are vital to your processes. Access to real-time information can certainty reduce non-value added time, decrease errors, improve safety, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization.
Where I had point to pause and wonder whether this was Lean was the tenth area where mobility can impact Lean initiatives:
10. Management: Improve Decision Making and Manager Effectiveness
Regardless of whether your managers are responsible for your plant, sales or field operations, they need access to a wealth of information in order to act as effectively as possible. With a mobile device, managers can access productivity applications such as email, plant messages and alerts as well as back-end systems that provide a window into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and more. By mobilizing the many critical management applications, managers can be on the go -- yet access the information required to make the best decisions possible.
I understand access to information at your finger tips can be helpful but does this embrace Lean Thinking and teachings? You can not replace going to the Gemba (actual place). Management must practice Genchi Genbutsu which is a Lean practice of thoroughly understanding a condition by confirming information or data through personal observation at the source of the condition. You can not rely on a mobile device for this since it can’t provide information in this way. If you want to improve decision making you must go and see.
June also implies that management is too busy or unreachable to be available when needed. Lean teaches us to empower operations to make decisions in a structured way. We should all be able to recognize an abnormal condition and stop the process to understand the current condition, define the target condition, and implement countermeasures to close gap. We do not need to wait for management to tell us what to do. This is not to say we don’t need management because we do. It is just the role of management should be different in Lean environment from what is implied here.
Remember, technology can not replace management’s role in a Lean organization. They must learn to see, go to the source, use data and information, educate and coach, and empower the workforce. You can only do this by being accessible, available, and intimately involved. A mobile device can not do this for you.