People, Software, and Control

Phil Coy – @leaniac
Managing Director of Strategic Services

“We use software and systems to control people as part of the process, rather than using software and systems to give control to people to enable them to control the process.”  

– David Bovis, Duxinaroe (

A LinkedIN discussion caught my eye today. It was titled, “Why can’t we use technology to accelerate Lean adoption across my company?” The chain generated a fair number of comments across the spectrum, mainly from those who expressed the very typical cautions about technology and the importance of starting with manual methods. Some of the most outspoken voices have long maintained that you can turn off your ERP on the shop floor and just use Excel and a whiteboard.  Been there, tried that. It doesn’t work unless you have a very simple process.

It got me thinking, once again, about why there’s such a distrust of technology within the lean community.Eval_Guide_Tech_Upgrade_Background_01

Enter David Bovis, MD of Duxinaroe, specializing in leadership, change management, cultural alignment, and engagement specifically in lean transformation. He just happened to ping me to stay in touch. David and I have had some fascinating discussions in the past so I brought the subject up. He contributed the above quote based on his philosophy and methodology. He has it exactly right; the issue with technology is all about CONTROL.

Is the technology there to control people or is the technology there to enable people to control their own process? The right answer is obvious when stated so directly, but there’s a subtle philosophy that creeps in, claiming that the ERP (or worse, IT) is in charge and the people are there to serve it–almost as if it really would be better without the people, whose unpredictability interferes with what should be a flawlessly functioning, robotic system.

Unfortunately, a lot of software seems to embed this philosophy with fancy algorithms that people can’t understand and complexity that boggles the mind. The software was created by wizards who no one can talk to and certainly don’t communicate with us. And then there’s management, who so often seem to invest in software to control their people, instead of investing in people to own and manage their process.

I’ve tried to take the opposite approach with Areteium, the software toolkit I designed to support lean transformation. While others have encouraged me to use other tools and methods for fancy scheduling, we’re committed to visual factory on the shop floor with standard pull, flow, and heijunka. Every formula is completely transparent, providing insight and clarity in how takt time, EPEI, and supermarket sizing are set. We’ve worked hard to make the software easy to use, complete with easy data importing and exporting, as well as simple ways to provide what-if analysis. The underlying philosophy is to do just what David so succinctly stated – to provide a technology assist to put people in control of the process.

Here’s an open invitation:  check out Areteium and ask for a demo. See whether it’s geared towards enabling people to control their own data and their own process. And then let me know what you think.