Why bother with ‘Performance Improvement’ when you can go digital?

Many will be familiar with the digital revolution in sectors such as media and retail. But more traditional, operational businesses are also looking to digital solutions to improve their performance. Digital provides opportunities that simply were not available two to three years ago, opportunities to streamline and automate processes, create a truly connected mobile workforce and to solve problems through data analytics in ways that were previously unimagined.

So with all these great new digital tools, are traditional performance improvement (PI) programmes, such as Lean, Six Sigma and Performance Excellence, still relevant?

A large number of our clients think they are. For example, we are seeing ‘Lean’ undergoing a resurgence in the utilities sector, and PI within financial services seems as strong as ever. You might suggest these businesses are simply behind the times, but this is not the case. These companies are running PI programmes in parallel with digital transformation programmes.

So why are these businesses still spending millions on process, people and behaviours?

The fundamental reason is that there are still human beings involved in the process. The level of automation may increase and the role of people may change but we will still be involved to monitor, intervene, handle exceptions or simply carry out manual processes. To give an example, our on-line shopping is still picked, packed and delivered by a person.

Easier to go digital

The reality is that there are lots of people who are still uncomfortable using technology. While this is gradually changing, introducing new technology in to large organisations successfully is still a big challenge. The solutions don’t necessarily work first time and the people don’t necessarily want to use them.

Imagine how much easier it would be introducing new technology in to teams that are already empowered and able to take ownership, solve problems and continuously improve the way they work. Well that’s one of the benefits of creating a continuous improvement culture

Achieve more

With us humans still involved, performance will not just depend on the digital tools but how we use them. Achieving sustainable results requires a fundamental change in behaviours.

For example, Capgemini has been working with Network Rail to design and implement a digital solution that allows field engineers to view consolidated asset information on an iPad at their location along the railway line. A great piece of kit it might be, but the engineer still has to want to use it, know how to use it and has to actually take different action than they would have done before. Without training and on-site support to bring about changes in the way they work, this could have turned into merely a very expensive toy. But we worked alongside engineers to make sure they understood the benefits of using the tool, testing and refining the tool in an iterative way.

PI and Digital Collaboration

We are seeing a convergence of approach between the PI world and the digital world. Agile software development methods have much in common with Lean ways of working. Both Agile and Lean teams now work in an iterative way, striving for ‘minimum viable’ solutions that can be rapidly tested in the field then refined in close collaboration with end users or customers.

There are fantastic synergies to be realised by combining the two. How great would it be for software developers to be able to tap in to thousands of users who are experts in identifying, prioritising and implementing improvements? And what a dream it would be for PI teams to be able to propose systems changes and have them implemented rapidly to resolve an issue.

PI going digital

At the same time PI itself is going digital. Improvements in mobile technologies and connectivity and the development of digital tools allows distributed teams to collaborate using visual management and continuous improvement tools. This further accelerates the improvement process.

I’m excited about digital transformation and the opportunities it presents. But for as long as people stay involved it remains the case that ignoring the people element of the equation would be to miss a massive opportunity.

Traditional PI programmes are not only still relevant – they should be the foundation for digital transformation.