Mastering Work and Resource Management Through the Eyes of Top Lean Performers

Lean lets users see the big picture of their projects by analyzing every little step along the way. It’s meant to be visual, using tools that allow team members to easily see the steps in the workflow process.

Engineering teams across all types of organizations know and understand the importance of efficiency, of working smarter and faster. Unfortunately, the day-to-day demand of project management and troubleshooting often can lead teams to overlook taking time to improve the critical component of work and resource management. Dedicating the necessary resources to accomplishing a more streamlined process isn’t always in the cards, though we all know it should be.

We need a better way for our engineering teams to consider work and resource management as they manage their day-to-day tasks. We need a way that can be applied passively, that shapes our teams to think of efficiency first. Lean business strategies are proving to be the ideal candidate for creating this efficiency philosophy. 

Lean is a system predicated on data and analysis, not on emotion and gut instincts. It’s all about clarifying task assignments, workflow order, and gathering information on the engineering process to analyze patterns and trends. Lean engineering teams give individuals the tools they need to create value that can be passed on to the customer. 

In the most practical terms, Lean lets users see the big picture of their projects by analyzing every little step along the way. It’s meant to be visual, using tools that allow team members to easily see the steps in the workflow process. Lean works in conjunction with Agile business practices, emphasizing agility and adaptability through constant changes. 

As Lean is being applied at greater levels to knowledge-based work, we set out to conduct our initial Lean Business Survey in 2016. We then compiled the data into the Lean Business Report with our eyes concentrated on what commonalities existed between high-functioning Lean teams. What were they doing right? What were they steering clear of? Were there any specific organizational structures that impacted their Lean success?

With those questions in mind, and hard data in hand, here are some lessons we took away from the top-performing Lean teams.

Use Your Power Tools Wisely

When you’re trying to build a house from the ground floor up, it’s useful to have a wide variety of power tools at your disposal. With that said, try driving a screw into a floor panel with the end of a hammer and you’re going to have a problem. If you don’t follow the instructions and use your tools as they’re meant, you risk damaging the tools and everything else they come in contact with.

The same is true for Lean tools. While many of the teams in our survey reported using a variety of Lean tools, ranging from Kanban boards to Continuous Flow models, when you start out by using every tool at once, you risk overwhelming your team with too many options. Further, you risk valuable tools failing when they shouldn’t have, leading to them being thrown by the wayside.

For most teams (approximately 5 out of every 6), their Lean journey will include the use of a Kanban board. This board is a visual method for managing workflow through a “pull system,” whereby work is separated into stages and pulled through to each stage rather than pushed along. This gives team members greater autonomy over workflow and grants management the ability to recognize where along the production cycle efficiencies aren’t being met.

In addition to Kanban, many teams like integrating Work-In-Process limits to control the speed of delivery and quality of production while simultaneously reducing stress across the team. The visual representations of these tools can be physically or through the use of work and resource management software. The latter is particularly useful for digital teams, for companies with workforces in different locales, and just for overall analytics tracking. 

Keep All Eyes on Workflow

The ultimate goal of Lean is to optimize the flow of value to the customer. Using insights gleaned from customers, Lean companies make decisions to create greater value and eliminate waste from their processes in order to achieve this goal. The top-performing Lean teams know these flow improvements don’t just happen—flow has to be on the minds of the whole team. 

In the Lean Business Survey, high-performing teams made it clear they were prioritizing goals related to flow, such as team productivity, better change management, and efficient processes. By proactively working to maintain a focus on flow, efficiency and customer value will always be on your engineering team’s minds. 

Crunching the Numbers

Management wiz Peter Drucker once said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” The primary element of Lean ideas is a reliance on data to make vital decisions. In this way, we can guarantee the decisions being made will provide the greatest value to the customer and, ultimately, the company.

High-performing Lean teams industry-wide don’t just measure the performance of their work. They delve deeper into the efficiency and speed of the operation, including Lean metrics such as cycle time, lead time, and current team and personal Work-In-Process speeds. Measuring these types of performance standards allows teams to use data not only to improve their output, but also improve the way they work.

The best Lean-focused software programs will aggregate this information in ways your engineering team can take leverage. By presenting data and outlining trends in a variety of unique ways, your team can stay ahead of the curve and always be on the lookout for new discoveries in efficiency. 

Don’t Fret About Experience

If this is your first time working with Lean, don’t worry! There may be some challenges in the beginning stages, but beginners shouldn’t be discouraged: Some 88 percent of engineering teams who identified as beginners reported moderate to significant improvements in project success. 

This success continued to grow as they matured in their Lean strategy, so keep on with it! These lessons should serve as guiding principles on your Lean journey toward optimizing work and resource management. As we strive to improve our processes along the way, we further strengthen our ability to fully function as a team and allow all the moving parts to come together in order to best achieve organizational goals. 

As chief evangelist, Lean-Agile strategy at Planview, and former co-founder of LeanKit, Jon Terry helps enterprises around the globe discover how to increase effectiveness, optimize processes, and deliver value faster with Lean-Agile principles. Terry actively seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of Kanban and visual project management, and is a presenter within the Lean-Agile community. In addition, he has been a leader in Agile transformations for some of the largest organizations in North America, including hospital-giant HCA Healthcare and its subsidiary, HealthTrust Purchasing Group. Terry earned his Global Executive MBA from Georgetown University and ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.Connect with him at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonterry/

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