Posted by: Knightbird | September 22, 2010

Lean in the Digital Age

The Toyota Production System developed before the digital age became affordable for the majority of businesses. I bought my first Mac in 1984. Shortly after, the business I worked for provided me with a PC AT. The internet didn’t enter my life until the mid 1990’s. My first behemoth cell phone became available in the 1990’s as well. Since then, digital has become essential for businesses. Digital Lean Management has also become a way of life for Chugachmiut. I thought I would talk about how and why today.

One of our first Lean Projects for our network happened when we moved to our new building in 2005. At our old building, the network distributed access in a strange way that created a bottleneck. And our 4 tower servers became increasingly unreliable as they aged, and as ongoing maintenance faltered. In past Kaizen, a couple of our employees noted the slow access times they experienced, and also talked about down time. It affected work just as effectively as a manufacturing line being totally shut down. We realized that Lean Management tools needed to be applied to our digital systems equally with our manual systems.

Our first move was to install a blade server when we moved to our new building. We estimated the capacity we believed we would need for server access, and determined that a blade server would allow us to add that capacity in a way that best served our needs. The cost was significantly greater than purchasing individual tower servers to replace our four aging servers. However, the incremental cost of adding capacity diminished, and the costs of maintaining the server were less than the individual tower servers.

We also analyzed the capacity needs for our employees who used the internet frequently, and expanded our access to one additional T-1 line to serve their needs. The time they saved by eliminating slow access more than compensated for the additional cost.

And we also realized that as a non-profit government contractor, many of our records management costs could be contained by digitizing the records and storing them on a network accessible server. And while we did not anticipate the government mandate for Electronic Health Records, we do have the capacity for accommodating the mandate.

Our records management costs had been hidden in a lot of ways, but the costs were most significant with employee handling—storing, retrieving and recreating. An interesting ROI calculator for document management can be found at:

Finally, network spaces also need to be managed, and as I discussed some time ago, my staff conducted a digital 5 S for our shared space.

Managing digital resources using Lean Management tools and techniques is appropriate. Just as with manual processes, digital processes contain incredible amounts of waste that can be eliminated through active process management.

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