That Knotty Lean – Technology Issue Again


There is a pretty common perception that lean is anti-technology; that lean and technology are mutually exclusive; that some either/or relationship exists. No doubt there are many, many instances in which information technology subverts lean, and is used to automate waste when that waste should be eliminated. But there is nothing inherently anti-lean about technology. It is a lot like a gun – depending on who is using it and to what purpose, it can just as easily be a tool for good as it can be one for evil.

Please give this article a very good read: Ford Uses Google Maps Tech Backed by Siemens to Map Its Factories.

The part about … “a way to help manufacturing professionals virtually fly into any factory location around the globe, and explore, align, collaborate and share knowledge. IntoSite provides manufacturers virtual access to plants for manufacturing planning, issue resolution and sharing best practices globally without the need for costly plant visits” is the crux of the matter.

The part about it being for “professionals” is a little disturbing if it means it is only a tool for high paid, salaried types to “explore, align, collaborate and share knowledge”. If “professionals” also includes professional auto assemblers, however, it seems to be a very lean tool.

The difference between good – lean – applications of information technology and bad is whether or not it is used to insinuate non-value adding people in the information loop. This technology Ford has deployed seems to have great potential for people doing comparable work in geographically remote locations from each other to share information. That would make it very good. It also has the potential for old school industrial engineers to put the screws on people in one place based on methods improvements developed by folks in another place.

In the end this technology is merely another tool – albeit one with impressive potential. Used within the context of a truly lean culture and in support of a lean management scheme it can be very, very effective in facilitating continuous improvement. Otherwise it is just another lean tool that can create the appearance of lean without really making anything particularly lean.

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