Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is Social Media the Next Lean Tool?

This year, facebook reports membership at more than 500 million active users with over 50% active each day and more than 30 billion pieces of contact shared each month. This would make facebook the 3rd largest nation in the world behind China and India, easily exceeding the US population.

Twitter seems to be the dominate microbloging player with 75 million estimated users although the numbers are not confirmed. We have LinkedIn, Blogs, YouTube, iPhone Apps just to mention other popular communication tools.

With the growing popularity with these forms of social media and the vast number of communication offerings, can they be used to improve how we conduct business or more specifically, can they be used in a lean transformation?

This is just one of the experiments that Xerox is trying in their Lean Six Sigma initiative according to Aqua Porter, VP corporate Lean Six Sigma Operations in her presentation today in the Lean Manufacturing Track at Noria’s Reliable Plant Conference 2010.

This is not the case of a hammer looking for a nail. No, it is simply a method to bridge poor communication. This includes slow communication, lack of sharing best practices, lack of interactive communication, etc. It is viewed as the way to improve customer dialogue as well as internal communication, both vertically and horizontally within the company.

One application in particular under test at Xerox is the use internal microbloging tool Yammer. Yammer describes their platform as "a tool for allowing companies and organizations to become more productive through the exchange of short frequent messages. The standard Twitter question is "What are you doing?", whereas with Yammer you answer the question "What are you working on?'".

Since this is still a new tool to their Lean Six Sigma approach, the results are still pending. I applaud Xerox for their boldness and open-mindedness to experiment with social media.

Despite the overall popularity of social media and unlike Xerox, the typical corporate viewpoint on social media is not one I would consider “embracing with open arms”. In my experience, the typical corporate viewpoint on social media is based on fear, control and legal protection. It is not viewed as a positive tool and certainly not something to be done “while on the clock”. Does this closed-minded view limit us in tapping into the power of social media might offer?

What do you think? Is your company embracing social media? Does social media mix with the lean journey?


John Hunter said...

I don't think most companies are embracing technology, the internet, social media... And those that do, well, I think many just add lots of waste and little value. Now you can actually embrace it well, but it isn't just saying ok, lets go tweet and write on walls.

Companies that do well most likely have a good vision of the organization and a culture that appreciates creativity and innovation. But that is rare. Slapping social media onto most companies is just embarrassing.

Experimenting (really experimenting - that means testing and learning and adjusting) is a great idea. Frankly I think most companies would do better focusing on say process improvement, customer care, creating a good work environment... but using technology well does have great benefits.

Unknown said...

I just put out a blog post based on what I found from a group of CIOs regarding their means of collaboration online, including adding social media to project collaboration. We shouldn't be surprised to hear that in a collaborative culture, the choice of tool matters little, and when tools are added to a dysfunctional team, you get little meaningful use out of them. It's at http://leanreflect.blogspot.com/2010/08/choosing-online-collaboration-tools-for.html if you want to read the details.

That said, if we can wrest social media away from marketing, we have the potential to speed up team communications and document their work better. As our teams become ever more geographically dispersed, we need to add new ways to create closeness.

Jamie Flinchbaugh said...

I think Yammer is a great tool and use it very extensively. It keeps certain things out of your inbox and in a space that is protected and focused.

Jeff Hajek said...

I think it can certainly help make improvements if it is tied to specific goals. Simply sharing more information may not make teams more effective if there is a lot of wading through irrelevant messages. Plus, just being able to share information more easily doesn't make it more accurate. Social media broadcasts a lot of incorrect information and opinion presented as fact. When those obstacles are overcome, I see a lot of promise.