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The reason why lean integration fails (and what to do about it)

Lean manufacturing as espoused by Toyota Production Systems was so popular that it became a trend then a standard and eventually just a single word: lean.

Toyota sought to manufacture as efficiently as possible by removing waste from its processes and operate just-in-time to compress the deployment of resources. The clever chaps at Toyota realised, however, that this would be impossible to perfect, so they made “constant striving” one of their goals.

Lean incorporates so many good principles that it is a natural extension to bring it into the world of data, application, and process integration. Software systems are always in a state of flux, unless they're legacy, which makes integration an ongoing issue. The reasons are numerous and range from products reaching end of life to business acquisitions.

As a result, integration seeks to make independent information technology elements work together as a cohesive system for applications across the enterprise. Data integration finds its place across various keystone technologies, such as metadata management, data warehousing, data migration, master data management, data quality, cloud data integration, information life cycle management and business-to-business data exchange.

Lack of data integration undermines efficient business operations, which is precisely what lean seeks to achieve. Lean principles and methodologies are interwoven with the fabric of management. These principles urge companies to sustain knowledge, plan for change, deliver quickly, empower the team, build quality in, and optimise the whole – easily recognised benefits to many businesses. A common thread is using resources and executing operations as economically as possible.

Yet, for all the obvious benefits that lean offers, most businesses don't adhere to lean principles.

There are many reasons why lean fails.

Businesses often decide it's a good idea to implement lean, even on an initially small scale or pilot, so they plan and roll out a lean project. However, in the vast majority of these cases, the initial gains are lost because the activities, processes and methodologies are eventually neglected. Short-term priorities override other considerations. Turf wars between managers stifle progress.

Federated lean deployment often bears similar rotten fruit. Champions, drivers, or knowledgeable workers leave and they aren't replaced by people with similar skills and knowledge. Culture sometimes gets in the way and that magnifies the importance of strong leadership. “We've always done things this way so there's no need to fix what isn't broken.” Sometimes budgets are slashed, eroding support and resources.

The biggest issue that businesses face in implementing lean integration then isn't that they need new software tools or a spate of different – and often prohibitively expensive – new systems. They need the right people, with the right attitude and knowledge, and most urgently, require consistent and thorough application of principles, standards and procedures.

Businesses that want lean benefits must maintain the integrity of their lean programmes. Budgets can be cut, people replaced, silos maintained, autonomous businesses and divisions fostered, as long as it is done with the primary consideration of a united lean operation that operates as a virtual whole. Failure to do so results in waste and that scuppers any lean effort.

Editorial contacts

Knowledge Integration Dynamics
Mervyn Mooi
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Thought Bubble
Jeanné Swart
(082) 539 6835
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