With 1 in 5 customers expressing interest in personalized products, it’s no wonder that the rise of mass personalization is shifting the way businesses operate, with many turning to high mix/low volume manufacturing and focusing on data-driven insights and experiences in response to the resulting surge of products. Businesses are being forced to create a differentiated proposition, which means added pressure to churn out high-quality products quicker, more efficiently, and at a lower cost than ever before.

Manufacturers that are able to keep up with this trend are those that have figured out how to leverage lean methodologies with digital tools to reduce costs and augment their workforce. While traditional lean on its own can typically yield a 15% reduction in key operations costs, it’s the compounding effect of lean and digital tools that produce doubled savings from a 30% cost reduction.

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The Rise of the Connected Worker: The 8th Waste

Lean was traditionally composed of 7 wastes, but as of the 90s, the 8th waste of unutilized talent was added. The human element is at the center of all other wastes, and it’s the pillar on which all other wastes should be based when planning for a successful digital transformation.

As such, implementing a digital transformation has been a struggle for many businesses affected by manufacturing’s labor shortage, as the uphill battle to get people to return to work is challenged by the fact that finding qualified talent with the right skills is 36 percent harder now than it was in 2018.

One way to address this is to implement ways to make the job more appealing and empower workers with the digital tools they need to excel at their job. For example, with a tool that automates a previously manual task, a worker’s attention and time are now freed up, enabling them to tackle more complex situations that require strategic decision-making. A rising number of manufacturers are catching on, as reflected in the 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Study, where 57% of manufacturing respondents reported using advanced technologies to redesign job tasks.

However, just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. Advanced manufacturing doesn’t come without its pitfalls, but that’s because without lean already implemented, trying to digitize your operations might as well be setting yourself up for failure.

Where Digitizing Your Operations Can Fail Without the Lean Mentality

Incorporating digital tools into an operation is not a guaranteed formula for success. Without lean principles already in place, technology falls flat and fails to perform at desired levels. Likewise, a poorly targeted technology project or ineptly designed process improvements within a pilot can lead to program fatigue and even negative returns for a business. Manufacturers can avoid this by conducting a detailed assessment to ensure that initiatives align with opportunities to capture value, then developing rigorous business cases that can be tracked during implementation.

Avoid the risk of pilot purgatory by minding the potential pitfalls of attempting to implement digital lean efforts without the right framework:

Value first, technology second

  • Pitfall: businesses get caught up in exploring the technology of a digital program rather than solving the most urgent business problems.

  • Solution: as discrete initiatives are implemented, metrics should be tracked and reported to capture program value.

Identify the right starting point

  • Pitfall: choosing the right starting point may be challenging because, within each plant or line, you need to evaluate the people, process, and technology readiness of every situation.

  • Solution: consider whether leadership can make changes stick or if they’re resistant to change, as well as assess whether there’s a continuous improvement group or process in place.

Secure stakeholder buy-in

  • Pitfall: overcoming the “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset can be challenging and deter a digital lean project from even getting started in the first place.

  • Solution: engage the workforce early and often to express the value of the tool by developing user personas for each stakeholder, that convey how a new tool can add value to their daily job.

Avoid near-term focus

  • Pitfall: convincing management to invest time, energy, and money in strategic projects that may not deliver immediate value can be challenging, especially as ROI doesn’t happen overnight.

  • Solution: a digital lean transformation is generally designed around step-change improvements, not overnight changes, so you should set initial expectations around ways of working, employees’ behaviors, and how decisions are made in a plant.


By learning how to mitigate these issues, manufacturers can take full advantage of digital lean.

Digital Lean Business Opportunity And Value

Digital lean takes the decision-making away from experience-based to data-based far more efficiently than lean processes alone could ever do. It allows a manufacturer to build on its lean foundation and leverage new technologies in order to solve previously unsolvable business problems and reach new levels of productivity.

Manufacturers can experience the full potential of digital lean when they focus on empowering their workforce with the right digital tools to leverage and enhance lean methodologies already in place.

Want to explore digital lean but not sure where to start?

Don't fail before getting started. Implementing digital lean works when you can identify the right tools to optimize lean processes already in place and augment your workforce.

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