Myth: Lean hates automation


I have been asked several times “why do lean people hate automation (or IT)?”. The answer is simple: we don’t.

IT systems/automation have 2 great advantages: unlimited calculation power and ubiquity. A low range IT system can calculate easily millions of times quicker than anybody, no matter how intelligent she/he is. And the information is everywhere with just one click. Simple paper-made visual boards will never outweigh them in these 2 aspects.

However, IT systems/automation must be introduced carefully in a process. First, you might think that putting an IT system in place will create a process. This is WRONG. IT systems must follow the process (help the process perform better) and not the opposite. I’ve seen many IT systems that have made the process worse because they forced unnatural behaviors to the people using them. In many cases, the IT system was implemented with the hope of improving the process, but the result was just the opposite. Remember: always design your process first, automate it afterwards.

Second, IT systems/automation are generally difficult to change, and typically only computer science engineers or similarly educated people can do that. People may become desperate when obvious improvement suggestions get never done. Obviously, this does not help create a continuous improvement culture. That’s why I rarely use IT in early stages of process development. I prefer easy to change, accessible to everybody systems (such as boards, paper, magnets, etc…) that can be understood and updated by anybody. Once the process is tested, improved, agreed and understood by everybody, it’s time to go IT (or not).

IT and automation can be the best solution in many cases, and a real nightmare in many others. They have to be chosen with care. Lean respects IT and automation, and that’s why it takes them so seriously.

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  1. Lean myths | lean voodoo - 6 November, 2016

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