Lean thinkers have referred to “ensuring that relevant customer requirements are available in all phases of production, and that they are not lost when progressively transformed into design solutions, production plans and products”. Customer requirements are however only part of information management in design.
In a lean production environment flow is a critical consideration and underlies the priciples of Just in Time, Smoothing the Flow, and Levelling. Other important considerations are the concept of "pull" which causes flow and responding to demands when they are required by production and not building in work in progress.
In design the “flow” is information to each workstation so that the output in the form of information for the next step in line (which could be further design or construction) can be completed on time and to budget with minimum waste.
A scenario can occur in a design office where an absence or shortage of knowledge and information threatens to halt production (of deliverables). The pressure of deadlines (push planning) requires work to continue and assumptions are made to fill in for the missing knowledge or information. This builds in the necessity to make corrections of the assumption later, or contingencies are made that the assumption may be incorrect and the design is “over-dimensioned”. The result is unplanned work.
The conclusion is that the reduction of making do in design requires control and optimisation of the flow of information and knowledge in the design team and between teams.
Waste In Design
In Lean there are 7 classic wastes:
Producing more than is needed right now
Movement of product that does not add value
Movement of people that does not add value
Idle time created when material, information, people, or equipment is not ready
Effort that creates no value from the customer’s viewpoint
More materials, parts, or products on hand than is needed right now
Work that contains errors, rework, mistakes or lacks something necessary
Some Lean thinkers add additional wastes:-
- Drawings, documents and information required to complete the task are not available and
- The task is started despite these not being available, or the task is continued when supply ceases
- Effort available to the team but not used to create value
From these wastes the following information management related wastes can be identified
- Waiting – unable to do work because information is not available or time is spent trying to identify information that needs to flow
- Over Processing – excessive steps to produce the output caused by resources or activities necessary to overcome a lack of information
- Making Do – continuing with production in the absence of required information
- Defects – drawings and design requiring rework and resources and activities used to correct or verify information
- Unused Creativity – team members making do due to lack of information when they could be employed creating value
Sources of Information
Typical types of information include emails, letters, meeting notes, call records, drawings, electronic data and photographs. A distinction may be drawn between “data” and “information”:-
Individual facts, statistics, or items of information.
1. Knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance;
2. Knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.
In the project environment typically a large mass of data will exist which continually grows in size. Information that adds value to an output is a subset of the total data.
Management activity should therefore focus on Information as it is this which forms the value stream in the design process. An 80/20 rule may apply whereby only 20% of the data collected is used in creating value.
Applying 5S to information management produces:-
- Sift (shine) – Ensure information is accurate and up to date
- Sort – Structure information so it can be easily navigated and found
- Set in Order – Store information in a single location that is available to all working on the project
- Sustain – Make sure teams use the system and continuously improve
- Standardise – Set protocols for information management
With the volumes of information within organisations increasing exponentially increasing attention is being paid to the challenges it produces, and the risks it creates.
In the absence of information management there is lack of certainty as to where information is, who has relevant information, and limited certainty as to its availability and currency. One consequence is that time is spent in search of essential information with which to continue production.
Smoothing the Design Workflow
To smooth the design workflow there must be a means of delivering the required information to the workface at the time it is required. It is however difficult in design to fix with certainty the time when information is required and in consequence information is delivered by “push”.
The concept of “pull” should be applied so that designers acquire information when they are ready to use it without the overload caused by “push”. There is then a likelihood that the information to be used in design will be current, correct and the best available.
Users need to be confident that they will find the information they are looking for and that it is current and up to date. All team members must use the system consistently and for all information.
Key principles of a strategy for managing project information within a Lean production (design) environment become:-
- Identify valuable information as distinct from data and manage it
- Users will only use a system if it has direct value to them or they understand the indirect value for another team
- Information should be available in real time as soon as it is acquired
- Minimise duplication of information
- Minimise out of date information
- Minimise duplication of effort
- Information should only be delivered as it is demanded by users (pull)
Information Management Strategy
To achieve 5S in an industry which is heavily dependent on the flow of information and knowledge requires a system that can provide:-
- Single source of all Information to:
- Minimise duplication
- Minimise out of date or superseded information
- Provide Information on demand as it is needed
- Be accessible to all project users at any time and be user friendly to:
- Provide direct value to users
- Enable users to supply information to others working on the project
- Provide real time access with notification of changes and additions
Reducing making do generated by lack of information can be attained by the adoption of relatively simple strategies.
- Use a single source of truth for information
- Recognise the 80/20 rule and actively manage useful information
- Use pull rather than push to supply information to designers
- Apply 5S to information management within the project
- Introduce make ready checks into daily/weekly stand up meetings