Q&A: How Lean Methodologies Impact HR

Leading2Lean is known primarily for technology solutions that apply Lean principles to manufacturing. But the Sparks, Nev., company got our attention with its CloudDISPATCH platform, which aims to help manufacturers create a culture of continuous improvement.

Lean focuses on eliminating waste from the manufacturing process by, among other things, considering the impact of heavy workloads and other workforce issues. However, we’ve never seen HR incorporated into its approach with the emphasis Leading2Lean applies.

With that in mind, we spoke with Keith Barr, the company’s president and CEO, to learn more about CloudDISPATCH and the thinking behind it.

Most people think of Lean as an operations methodology with little application to HR. How do you see it offering value to people whose job revolves around the workforce?

Leading2Lean's Keith Barr

Leading2Lean’s Keith Barr

Well, I think there’s a couple of areas. For one, the types of things HR has to do within the HR function itself can benefit from Lean principles and tools to drive more efficiency and responsiveness. On a larger scale, it can apply to human capital management and other things that influence the workforce in a way that engages and empowers them to improve their effectiveness and efficiency, as well as reduce turnover.

Today, the next-generation workforce and the Millennials want to have access. They want information and they want to have influence. They want the ability to impact the world they’re in and the surroundings they’re in, and they want to collaborate and be able to communicate as part of the larger culture that exists inside of a company.

So I think it’s about the ability to use technology to really empower workers through more access to information that’s pertinent to the task they’re doing, to give them a voice and have influence by taking away the risks around the way we communicate. By having access to the truth that surrounds their activities, they can represent themselves to management without feeling personally threatened, and gain the ability to understand what their colleagues and coworkers do. They can collaborate openly in how they address issues and solve problems in their work area. That can be a very powerful and enabling thing, and we’ve found it can be very impactful on a company’s culture.

Can you give me a nuts-and-bolts example?

If I’m an operator working on a machine on the factory floor and I have an issue—let’s say the machine goes down—I need to be able to affect its recovery as fast as I can because I’ve been tasked to do a job. So the ability to notify someone and know that there’s some visibility to the machine’s history helps me understand whether I can recover it myself or if I really need help. When I need help, I have a fast method to engage someone and know whether they’re responding of if they’re not able to because of another priority. That’s a very empowering thing for an operator

But how might HR use that data and apply that kind of data?

HR wants everyone to have a clear job description and a clear way of measuring and understanding whether each person’s performing their job or not. Our system puts those job standards in front of the person, not just for job performance but also for abnormalities. So it makes it very easy for that employee to take that ownership of their performance, and very apparent to leadership so they can manage that employee.

So it’s by looking at your dashboard that they can see a problem area and then figure out what the what the solution is?

For HR, it’s more about whether the environment for employees is conducive for them to take ownership and be clearly measured on their performance. We provide that environment so that HR can look and see, yeah, this person’s not performing as well as another doing that same type of work. It helps HR identify which people are performing exceptionally versus who’s struggling and may need some additional help from the supervisor.

Your product can be integrated with the systems of different organizational functions. Can you talk about how that works, both technically and operationally, especially in regards to HR?

Everything in our solution can be accessed through the web services API. It can be on a very low-level transactional basis or a unique aggregate function. On the HR side, it may come in the form of connecting their training systems to include the work standards operators or technicians apply on the factory floor. Or it could be used when a new hire is brought on board, setting the tone for what that person needs to be trained in.

We have a skills module that actually allows us to map the specific skills and training required for each operating area. Some of those skills might be broad, general things like safety-related, recurring training or hazardous materials-handling training. Some of them are more specific to the building of a particular product. Being able to integrate back to systems gives us the ability to leverage content and other systems that are being used to provide that training-record set.

What we’re doing is converting that and using it in a way to be representative of a real-time standard for that operator when they log into that station. We know the operator’s trained to perform that work and when they’re not [meeting the standard], an appropriate alert is sent to the right supervisor, saying this person isn’t current on training because maybe something changed since they operated their station last.

Leading2Lean CloudDISPATCH

Leading2Lean CloudDISPATCH

Can this kind of information be used for measuring workforce utilization, as well?

Yes. We’re a real-time system and that means we’re tracking actions and paths. So a person might clock in at the beginning of their day, but it’s very difficult thing to capture what they’re doing throughout the day.

A good example is a maintenance technician who might start his day with three work orders, and at the end of the day, those three work orders are pretty much how he divided up this time. But when he went out to the floor, he might have started working on one of those orders and someone walked up to him and said, “Hey, I need you to spend time on some problem over here.” There’s always these distractive tasks that seem to crop up. Most of them have merit as it relates to what the technician needs to be performing as work, so they’re useful but they’re just never captured.

Being in a real-time system gives them the ability to say, “I can stop working on this work order and go respond to that request,” and communicate that in a way that gives managers more information. So now we can improve the accuracy of the picture. Some technician might perform an hour-scheduled job in 40 minutes while another needs an hour and 20 minutes. That variance is important for us to understand. It shows who might be struggling in a particular type of work so the supervisor can provide some immediate assistance.

I’m guessing a lot of this depends on the employees themselves entering data as to what they’re doing. You know, when they’re starting a task, when they’re finishing a task and things like that. How are you collecting that data?

The challenge with technology is that we expect people to enter data but we have to provide an incentive or value for doing that. Otherwise people will provide whatever information will answer management’s concern, and that’s not necessarily the truth. To get them to be real participants, we have to provide an incentive.

If I’m a maintenance technician and I log into to do work on a particular machine, I’m enabled by the fact that now I have access to all this information that’s pertinent to that unit. It’s one click away because we know he’s working on that machine and we can present the history and the standards and the documentation as well as the spares inventory that’s available for that machine.

So the technician’s empowered immediately and says, “You know what? You just saved me time by the fact that I logged into this. It’s similar for an operator: When I’m logging into the station, you’re telling me if I’m meeting the work standard or not. If I’m not, you’re giving me, in one click, the standard that I need to review and validate so that we can continue production. You’re giving me the ability to see and understand what I need to do in order to perform this work effectively.

Also, they tend to hold their colleagues a little bit more accountable. If a maintenance technician repairs a machine and doesn’t put in good notes, his colleague is going to look at that same set of information and say, “Hey, you need to be more specific about what you did. I want to do a good job on this repair and this machine, so you need to put in better notes so that I know exactly where you were and what you did.”

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?

When it comes to technology changing the work culture and environment, it’s not just about HR and HR’s approach to engagement. It’s about the culture that has to exist in the way that people do work.

I think we’re at the point where technology is impacting that in a very positive way, and so I think software has to change. It has to change to allow people to leverage intellect and their ability to reuse it and their ability to add value. I’m not talking about rote tasks, but the kinds of things that require innovation and change and improvement—those come from people. So I think in every area, software has to change to the point where we’re accommodating what engages and empowers people.

We have to create an environment, not just a work culture. We have to have software and technology that empowers people and gives them the ability to have that realization of what they really can do as individuals. And I think we’ve hit on that and we’re working on that with our customers. That’s what software’s going to have to become.

Images: Leading2Lean

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