Research - 11.10.2018 - 00:00 

Lean management supports digitalization

The Production Management department at ITEM-HSG has carried out a cross-industry study on the topic "Lean 2020 – The Future of Operational Excellence". The result: Lean management remains the most important production paradigm, even after more than 25 years.

11 October 2018. Lean management means lean production and includes the efficient organisation of the value chain. It aims at holistic process optimisation and to generate flow, minimise waste and harmonise processes. Over the years, lean management has evolved into a business philosophy that concentrates on customer focus, process and product quality and the resulting cost reductions.

Satisfied clientèle, motivated employees

By optimising all processes and eliminating potential waste, products and services can be offered at a competitive price. In addition, lean management offers better orientation to the needs and wishes of customers. This is because high quality products can only arise as a result of accurate process definitions and interface descriptions as well as rapid reaction to mistakes.

Staff play a central role in the lean management business philosophy. It involves employees in the process of streamlining and thus uses their existing experience and skills. This involvement in decision-making and streamlining motivates employees to participate actively.

In search of new potential

"Many companies have been successful in lean management over the last few years and have achieved an increase in efficiency. Competitive pressure and increasing customer demands, however, force us to look for additional opportunities to generate customer benefit and avoid waste at the same time," explains Paul Buess, member of the research staff at ITEM-HSG. On this basis, together with Julian Macuvele, he carried out the cross-industry international study "Lean 2020 – The Future of Operational Excellence" from 2017 until the beginning of 2018. It was designed in close collaboration with industry and aimed at mapping the current status of lean production and documenting the successful application of novel approaches. To this end, more than 500 companies with lean applications were identified and from 75 – mainly European – companies, five particularly successful ones were selected, in order to more accurately analyse their LEAN experience.

The successful companies that received the "Lean 2020 Award" were selected by researchers and industry experts jointly. Henkel, Swisscom, thyssenkrupp Steering and LivaNova are just some examples of companies that apply 'lean' particularly successfully. Swisscom, for example, provides an example of the successful application of lean management in the context of digitalization. "Swisscom demonstrates that lean can also be used successfully in other areas than material production. For example, the company uses modern data analysis in various situations to improve the customer experience," explains Paul Buess. The use of machine learning increases efficiency and improves service quality at the same time. Cosmos sorts written customer enquiries with the help of artificial intelligence, in accordance with customer wishes. Simple routine queries get answered directly by sending a link to the appropriate source of online help. "More complex enquiries are forwarded to the right person with 85% probability The system significantly reduces the time required for a qualified response from Swisscom and thus increases the benefit to customers. At the same time, any non-value-adding work is minimised."

Lean remains the central leitmotif.

As well as evaluating new approaches, the study also provided general insights. Almost 90 per cent of the companies said that lean production will remain a central leitmotif in the future, to ensure competitiveness. "Lean potential is far from exhausted,” was also one of the quotes. Another conclusion is that there is still great development potential in spreading lean management from production to other areas such as sales and marketing. "The corporate culture is, and will remain, the most important factor in making lean production successful in future as well." Above all, this includes involving employees in continuous improvement," emphasises Julian Macuvele.

The study also provided valuable insights in terms of digitalization. "The companies interviewed were convinced that lean will support digitalization by ensuring standardised, robust and streamlined processes," explains the researcher. One of the successful companies put it this way: "If we don’t use lean principles, we will end up digitalization waste as well.

photo: Fotolia/ ipopba

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