The benefits of digitizing Lean project management

Cloud-based ERP networks allow for more efficient operation. One company, Broadwind Energy saw significant savings and increased productivity.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

These days, everything is moving online. From smart doorbells to Bluetooth-enabled Crock Pots, people everywhere are realizing the benefits of an interconnected world. The same goes for manufacturing: Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) and factory networks are just a few of the web-based systems allowing manufacturers to operate better than ever before. And lean is no exception to this shift online.

Broadwind Energy, a manufacturer of structures, equipment and components for clean technology, started their Lean Six Sigma journey with an online, lean project management system. We sat down with John Tackett, director of operational excellence at Broadwind Energy, to learn more about how their journey began, the results they have seen with lean and some advice for taking your own lean project management online.

The decision to implement Lean in the cloud

As part of the launch of Lean Six Sigma, the company knew they needed a tool that would not only manage and centralize lean projects, but that would also provide a clearinghouse of best-practice projects that could be accessed and shared by multiple sites across the U.S. So they began their search for an internet-connected tool.

“A lot of our strategy internally is moving towards cloud-based systems,” said Tackett. “Cloud-based tools have simplicity, ease of use and ease of setup. It was important to be able to quickly launch a project management tool across all sites. We were able to find a solution designed for Lean manufacturers – LeanDNA - that met all our requirements and allowed us to be up and running in short order.”

The implementation of digital lean project management consisted of two parts according to Tackett: working with the vendor to lay out a launch roadmap, while also working to communicate the new program throughout the organization. That required coordinating with everybody from the CEO, to plant sites, to individual users. “From the time I signed the agreement to the time that we were loading projects, it was roughly 30-45 days,” he said.

How online project management makes an impact

Broadwind found that there wasn’t just one positive impact after implementing the technology, there were many.

“Managing our projects online has helped us be more successful by providing structure to how we manage continuous improvement efforts,” said Tackett. “Lean online provides a good way to summarize all our efforts and investment.”

The company can load projects and add tasks with due dates and assignees. Because the system is online, all the information links together and updates automatically in any view across the platform. “This helps us quickly assess the current state of our lean efforts,” he said.

A3s and X-Matrices help users at all levels of the business execute. “Our online lean management tool has become our system of record for knowing how we’re working towards our targets,” said Tackett. “When we talk about projects in OpEx, our first questions are do we have it in LeanDNA? Who’s managing it? Do we have savings against it? Is it on time? ”

At the strategic level, Broadwind Energy is able to look at its entire network, or it can filter by sites. This provides a real-time drill-down to see which projects have been the most successful. Those projects best practices are then shared and implemented at other sites, allowing them to share successful strategies to maximize the benefit of Lean Six Sigma.

Benefits achieved

The benefits achieved included:

  • Completed projects enabled productivity improvements in the gear segment from 65% to over 80%
  • Projects targeted to deliver a 15% reduction in conversion costs on a per tower basis in towers segment
  • 125+ projects in progress or completed
  • Project savings range from $10K to $400K per project
  • Approximately 75 people collaborating across projects at a single site.

Tips for taking Lean project management online

If you’re an operations person thinking of migrating project management to the cloud, what should you know before you start?

“As a company, we are migrating towards cloud-based tools. I’m sure a lot of others are too,” Tackett said. “Make sure that you start with the foundation. Set a cultural expectation for how you manage projects within your organization. Even before you have a tool like this, establish review cadences and standards for looking at project data across your business, and train teams on the basics of lean and project management.”

However, Broadwind found that one of the challenges in managing lean digitally was sustaining momentum after the initial launch. “You’re trying to change years and years of learned behavior. Just like how Excel and Sharepoint replaced paper for project management, online lean project management has replaced Excel and Sharepoint,” Tackett said.

Broadwind put two mechanisms in place to mitigate the ups and downs of usage:

  1. Each location has an administrator tasked with keeping an eye on local projects for plant sites.
  2. The company established cadences with leadership groups to review projects in forums on a regular basis, using LeanDNA as the platform.

“There’s a constant influx of people looking at projects at all levels of the organization, so we’ve found that helps keep people engaged,” Tackett said.

The final tip? “Don’t underestimate how important this is,” he said. “When you have a visual, consolidated way to articulate projects and manage tasks, you’re apt to manage it better. Ultimately, our online lean project management system has improved the performance of our projects.”

Richard Lebovitz is the CEO at LeanDNA. LeanDNA will be at the AME Boston Conference from October 9-13, 2017. AME is a CFE Media content partner. This article originally appeared on AME's website.


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