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Manufacturing

Collaboration is in vogue! Companies across multiple industries are implementing a variety of process changes, systems, and tools to improve collaboration among their employees.

While these companies recognize the potential of collaboration, most have captured and quantified benefits only in relatively mundane areas such as reduced travel costs and time-related savings.

Some companies have adopted practices from Six Sigma management and lean manufacturing to complement collaboration tools and provide an additional boost to productivity, especially in knowledge work. Proven “lean” techniques such as 5S (“sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain”), standardized work processes, and a focus on maintaining a flow of work are being applied in industries ranging from financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing to software development.

Visual devices such as physical whiteboards and local electronic displays are also making their way from the plant floor into the office—a trend described as Workplace Visuality (see Visual Workplace, Visual Thinking by Gwendolyn Galsworth,  http://visualworkplace.com/about_us/gwendolyn_galsworth). These devices display important information and metrics such as customer goals, product development milestones, project and program status, and issues for escalation. They essentially serve as highly visible business dashboards to help employees quickly understand the state of their company’s business, while also aiding alignment on business priorities.

Lean practices, local tools, and manual workarounds are actually enabling collaboration at an individual office and department level. At the same time, however, companies have continued to expand their global footprint, and competitive pressures demand continuous improvement in the pace of doing business (i.e., making effective decisions and solving problems faster; reducing time to market for new products or services).

In addition, the need to collaborate effectively with external partners, suppliers, and customers has become even more urgent. And, knowledge workers are increasingly relying on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to remain connected with content and colleagues in order to be productive whether working in the office, at home, or while traveling.

Senior management is faced with the question of how to scale local practices, processes, tools, and collaboration capabilities in this new business environment to drive the next wave of employee productivity gains and innovation.

What’s the answer? Companies need to adopt an integrated, three-step approach:

  1. Understand barriers to collaboration that are unique to the company
  2. Develop solutions to address those barriers
  3. Integrate collaboration tools and visual devices with the way work is done in organizations

How are you addressing the challenge of scaling collaboration capabilities and other workplace productivity improvement practices in a global environment? Is your company implementing elements of the visual workplace? Let us know what you think.

In Part 2 of this four-part series, I’ll discuss why organizational culture and leadership are the most important factors in enabling gains in employee productivity and innovation.

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