People, Paper and a Whole New Ball Game


I sent something to my daughter on the west coast yesterday by overnight mail. Following my usual routine in such endeavors, I texted the tracking numbers from my copy of the receipt to her. It was a few hours later that it dawned on me that I could have just taken a picture of the receipt and messaged that to her – saving time, eliminating the possibility of error in typing in the numbers, an all around much better way to share the information.

That sort of lag in figuring out the possibilities of rapidly evolving information management technology happens to an old guy like me quite often. While I am feeling good about myself for mastering text messaging instead of calling her to give her the numbers and interrupting her at work, in fact I am at least a step or two behind even better possibilities.

I am working with a client on a big project, and talked to them about the need and techniques involved in standard work as their new processes come into place, and –lo and behold – find that they put the standard work onto a tablet kept in the work area and embedded brief videos in some places of it because the video could show three dimensional aspects of the work so much better. Great idea – wish I had thought of it.

The way information can be collected and disseminated throughout the business is exploding in ways that could not have been imagined only a few years ago … and its potential cannot be bottlenecked by old timers like me. If it has to wait for those of us steeped in paper based thinking, a world of centralized ERP systems, its potential will never be realized. By the time we get good with it, the next generation of information sharing will have kicked in and we will never get there.

God love the leaders at Soar Printing in New Zealand for their lean efforts, but “Every week the senior managers at Soar Printing meet to go through the latest brainwaves from the shop floor.” And “A classic example is one we got from our printers, which was to move the ink rack one metre from the wall so it could be accessed from both sides. That simple change has saved so much time and wastage.” An employee’s idea that can save “so much time and wastage” should not have to be submitted to a meeting of senior managers for approval – especially an idea as simple and low risk as to move a rack a couple of feet. They are never going to get standard work in video format on tablets if the senior folks can’t even let a rack be moved unless and until they can wrap their heads around the idea.

More to the point, in the ongoing battle at GE’s locomotive plant in Erie, “Union officials say that GE wants to revise work rules to increase productivity. These changes would include unpaid lunches, bans on cell-phone use, … “ Banning cell phone use? My cousin’s husband works for one of the big cell phone companies and a few years ago he told me that the cell companies don’t care about phone calls – they are a give away item and that the future of the cell industry was in the myriad of applications to integrate the Internet with people’s personal and business lives. At the time my biggest concern was how many minutes were allowed on my cell phone plan and I had no idea what he was talking about. He was right, of course, and GE looking to ban cell phones in the plant means they are banning the integration of information with people – not a policy likely to improve productivity.

Karen McGrane writes about the dangers of letting paper paradigms limit a digital strategy. She is absolutely correct. My friends at iDatix who host the Manufacturing Leadership Center are all about merging paper and digital. More than that, they are all about merging paper and digital with people. That is the real trick.

My story at the post office, on the surface, is about merging paper and digital – when do you convert the document to digital form and take advantage of the communications power of whatever that device is in my pocket (seems kind of limiting to call it my cell phone any more). More important is the question of how long it takes me to figure out the possibilities

For management, the question is the pace of the entire transition from paper and filing cabinets – big centrally controlled MRP systems – to a wide open sharing of information in any and all forms along the work flows – value streams. This is the revolution iDatix is leading and it will result in a network of information flows we cannot yet conceive. If it has to evolve at the pace a few old guys – guys like me - at the top figure it out we are all in trouble. If management will empower young, creative people like my clients with their tablet/video standard work ideas; and if they can understand the absurdity of banning cell phones – a device that barely exists any more – they can unleash power we cannot begin to imagine.

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