Applying Lean Kaizen to your Enterprise Mobile Strategy


Kaizen is a Lean principle that lays the foundation of choosing the right enterprise mobile application solution.  Loosely translated from Japanese, kaizen means “change for the better”; but this principle is bigger and bolder than tacking on an improvement to an existing structure – it is the process of continuously breaking down a process, removing unnecessary effort or waste, and rebuilding as a more efficient and effective process.  In custom enterprise application consulting, kaizen underpins the process we follow in finding the right enterprise workflow that is both proprietary to an organization’s competitive advantage while also a source of waste.  Because this seems contradictory, companies rarely ask for the application that will make the biggest difference to their organization.  In fact, the need for mobility-based kaizen is not always an easy concept to see without an outside perspective.  When a unique process is driving so much success it is often assumed untouchable and treated as though infallible.

The fear of change in an organization is powerful, especially when combined with an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality.  Unfortunately, operational effectiveness is not strategy and either a) your competitors will overcome the learning curve disadvantage and adopt your workflow or b) a small tech-savvy startup will render the proprietary workflow irrelevant.  Adopting a technical solution to maximize your unique process will give you a proprietary edge that will not be easily copied.  Adopting an innovation mindset as a strategic position will put you permanently ahead of the pack.

So how do we find the right enterprise mobile application, even more so build a portfolio of application programs?

The 3 Gen of your Enterprise:

Lean consulting begins with finding the 3 Gen or “actuals” of your enterprise.  Kaizen is impossible without direct insight into the organization, so the three “actuals” are key in finding the right application that can succeed big and drive the adoption of innovation and mobility as a competitive strategy:

  1. The Genba – By visiting the Genba or “Actual Place” where business is done, products are built, revenue is generated, an enterprise solutions consultant can view and understand the operations that create revenue, whether in a factory, a medical facility, or a sales showroom.  Through first-hand observation, rather than conversation, so much more can be learned about what an organization does, how it is done, and why it is done.  Whiteboards and conference calls can never convey the real heart of an enterprise, the “What’s the point?” or the “What’s it worth?” so coming to the actual place is critical to building out XP User Stories that speak to the pain felt by people performing the work on account of the inefficiencies they will otherwise protect out of a fear of change.  The employees, as users, must capture real value in order to drive higher revenue and operational cost savings.
  2. The Genbutsu – If possible, a great consultant doesn’t just watch, it is even better to directly interact with the genbutsu or “Actual Thing” – the real equipment being moved throughout a hospital or the customer “hand-off” artifacts.  In Lean Manufacturing, this often focused on the actual parts being assembled, the path those parts travel in a factory, and finding ways to simplify repetitive motions, reduce unnecessary travel distances through better placement of the work stations, or reducing the complexity of a step in the process by changing the order in which pieces were added to the whole.  In enterprise mobile solutions the “actual thing” is often information and the path it takes before and after that information becomes data and drives actions that produce revenue.  Information is easily decontextualized, so minimizing context-switching in the information-data-action flow is critical.  Mobile solutions drive context-awareness that turns social information into actionable data immediately and cuts out waste.
  3. The Genjitsu – Jitsu is an art, skill, or practice, a word that evolved etymologically from the characters meaning “a step along the middle of a road”.  As a Lean consulting concept, this means we must grasp the “actual situation” as it pertains to one process as a step in an overall flow.  More importantly, we must quantify the reality as objectively as possible, separate from emotional responses due to ego, social status in the organization, or feelings of blame.  We do this by obtaining data, making hypotheses, documenting workflows, and validating assumptions.  The goal is to not only make a well-informed decision about the most valuable application that can be created, but to validate the features that will be part of it.

Once the three “actuals” are known, sources of waste can be objectively identified, solutions crafted and prioritized, and a Minimum Viable Product is determined.  For more details on delivering a Lean MVP, see my post Lean Startup Principles in Custom Application Development to see when to release and when to pivot.

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