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What Can We Learn from the Digital Natives Using Lean

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Fabrice Bernhard, co-founder and CEO of Theodo UK, presented "what lean can learn from digital natives" at Lean Digital Summit 2018. Digital natives are familiar with the lean startup and agile practices. They go further by combining Agile with the Toyota Production System which enables them to experiment with ideas, spread innovations, and scale fast.

Digital native companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFAs) share some very effective management practices with Toyota, said Bernhard. He mentioned OKRs which are similar to Toyota’s Hoshin-Kanri, and agile teams that have a lot of autonomy and use visual management to self-inspect and share their progress with the rest of the organisation.

What digital native companies have, that traditional companies like Toyota do not and which contributes to making them scale faster, is a culture of software and connectedness, he said. Typical outcomes are, for example, continuous product updates over the air, open-sourcing tools to train and attract talent outside the organisation, or using the latest digital technologies to communicate in real-time internally and with their ecosystem. This helps them spread innovation much faster internally and with the outside world.

What lean teaches us is that inspecting the way you build your product at the most granular level is a huge source of innovation, said Bernhard. His advice for a company trying to accelerate innovation is to create that culture, with many- if not most- teams doing kaizen, ie teams inspecting the way they work at a very detailed level to come up with ideas, and then experimenting with different ways to improve their work. This should create a flow of innovation coming from the whole organisation, he said.

Once this flow of innovation exists, set up an internal social network and organise regular meetings between "guilds" of people who share similar topics of innovation to ensure innovation is spread effectively across teams that can benefit from it, he advised.

InfoQ interviewed Bernhard about what lean can learn from the digital natives.

InfoQ: Are the agile of digital natives and the lean of Toyota compatible?

Frabrice Bernhard: The successful adoption of some lean management practices by the GAFAs, like Hoshin-Kanri and visual management, shows that digital natives are receptive to lean culture. Similarly, the emphasis on retrospective and daily inspection in the agile methodology, used by most startups, reminds us that agile has deep roots going all the way back to the Toyota Production System. The hardest challenge is therefore not mixing both the agile culture of digital natives and the lean culture of Toyota; the challenge is adopting both individually in your organisation in the first place.

InfoQ: How did you mix the culture of digital natives with a lean culture?

Bernhard: At Theodo, once we had started adopting both agile and lean practices, we quickly experimented with mixing both cultures successfully.

The first initiatives were around putting our weekly client’s satisfaction survey (the voice of the customer in lean) on the Scrum board and training Scrum teams in using lean problem-solving frameworks when an indicator was red. These initiatives helped teams to be more autonomous and helped us scale faster.

More recent initiatives are, for example, making time for an improvement kaizen alongside the typical Scrum sprint. This allows teams to invest much more time in analysing the way they work and improving it, than a traditional agile team. This has led to incredible innovations which, because we have the culture of digital natives, have spread extremely fast across the organisation, using communication tools like our internal social network or our shared code repositories on github.

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