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.


Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me