Applying lean manufacturing principles to accelerate new hire time to value

Applying lean manufacturing principles to accelerate new hire time to value
By Geoff Wagner
Nov 30, 2021
Virtual onboarding can be challenging but applying lean manufacturing principles can accelerate the ability of new hires to provide substantial value.

The pandemic has changed employee onboarding—particularly in the technology industry—forever. Previously, onboarding would start once the right candidate was hired; IT would provision workstations and credentials, training would be scheduled, and seasoned members of the team would provide resources and best practices guidance. Likely, the new team member would begin contributing value to active projects within a week or two of their first day.

Minimizing time to value—the amount of time it takes for a project to start realizing value—for new hires is not a new challenge, but the pandemic has increased the need to reimagine the onboarding process to ensure new team members are equipped to add value as quickly as possible. Although workstations can no longer be walked from the IT room to the new hire’s desk, they can be shipped—with all the necessary accessories—to an employee’s home. That change will require facilitation and support during setup to get new hires up and running. During that time, consider leveraging video call software for quick check-ins, personal introductions, and virtual job shadowing to foster connections and instill confidence in new hires. If not approached from a nurturing, strategic lens, virtual onboarding can translate to more overhead, risk for business owners, and a frustrating experience for employees.

Applying lean manufacturing to onboarding

The pandemic has challenged processes once considered routine. Onboarding must now be re-evaluated and implemented in a way that meets these new challenges and demands and successfully ramps up employees to meaningfully contribute to value-centric products or enhancements.

During onboarding and in general, members of the technology industry must constantly ask the question; How can we minimize time to value? To answer that question, we need to elevate the level of importance in how we produce technology to that of product generation. To address that challenge we can look to the core principles of lean manufacturing:

Lean manufacturing principle #1: Identify value

Any successful business needs to identify—and relentlessly pursue—the unique value they provide that meets their customers’ needs. Products must be designed and modified with that value in mind. For example, removing features and functionality that do not meet current customer needs. Sharing that unique value with new hires will accelerate their understanding of your product and customer.

Lean manufacturing principle #2: Mapping the value stream

A value stream map (VSM) illustrates the flow of value through an organization; starting from customer request or market research, all the way through to the value delivered to the market for consumption or purchase. Crafting a clear value journey or flow enables employees to visualize how their work impacts the final product and customer experience.

Lean manufacturing principle #3: Create flow

Creating flow is essential in lean manufacturing to ensure minimal time between investment—in parts, people, machinery, and facilities—and when those dollars are returned and can be reinvested in growth and additional manufacturing. A well-organized production process minimizes inefficiencies and translates to streamlined onboarding.

Lean manufacturing principle #4: Establish pull

Traditional project management continually assigns tasks to the next individual contributor based on a project schedule. That system is prone to error and overload of work in progress (WIP). In a pull-based system, work is pulled as capacity to perform the next step is available. In the world of lean manufacturing, the next order is pulled from the shipping department and manufactured just in time for delivery. Establishing pull allows employees to reduce both the amount of WIP and the occurrence of errors by enabling them to focus on the task at hand.

Lean manufacturing principle #5: Continuous improvement

Lean manufacturing is constantly looking for ways to cut waste from the production process. Adopting that as a cultural shift will ensure that everyone is streamlining, looking for efficiencies, and seeking continuous improvements in underperforming processes.

How new methods can minimize overall time to value

The pandemic put a magnifying glass on new hire time to value and highlighted it as a potential roadblock to creating flow and establishing pull for companies that do not have a proactive onboarding approach with the ability to evolve with the changing landscape.

To ensure employee value can be provided with as little delay as possible, an evaluation should be done of the overall value stream with a recognition that conventional norms are no longer applicable. Some examples of breaking out of those norms include:

Moving to a cloud-based workflow and SLDC pipeline with full DevOps and Infrastructure as Code (IaC) automation to support delivery. Adoption of a fully-automated methodology helps promote the principles of establishing pull and continuous improvement. Furthermore, a company can move to a bring your own device (BYOD) model knowing that their technology is virtualized into a central location, reducing the risk of supply chain issues, or loss of intellectual property. From there, efforts can be easily paralleled to promote many value streams concurrently to constantly deliver value, without the fundamental killer of productivity, “it worked on my machine.”

Invest in automated testing to promote a faster feedback loop to fix defects, in turn producing work products that are always production-ready. Releasing early and often will help capture the market where it is—meeting customer needs as they occur. The traditional large, monolithic release structure of the early 2000’s no longer meets today’s market demands. Eliminating the wait time on reworks by tightening the feedback loop and getting information back into the hands of technologists immediately, while the concepts, challenges, hurdles, and constraints are still fresh, can help meet these demands.

Challenge the traditional norms of communication by embracing an asynchronous communications model. With tooling in the industry today leaning more toward real-time communication, employees can feel overwhelmed by needing to be part of the larger, always-on narrative while simultaneously delivering the work that has been asked of them by the organization. Spending more time defining, planning, designing, and communicating upfront, can help your employees spend more time focusing on delivering value. That should include a reassessment of the relevance of various ceremonial activities, to understand what is really important and applicable today versus prior to the disruption of the pandemic.

Continue to push the boundaries

It’s paramount to invest in your customers, partners, and potential customers, as well as in your own journey through these challenging times. Resist the “business as usual” mindset and remain vigilant in your pursuit of an innovative approach to onboarding remote employees. That will ensure your organization is equipped with work from home (WFH) employees who contribute substantial value early and will strengthen your organizational commitment to delivery—even with the added challenges of the pandemic.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Geoff Wagner, Partner, Technology Hosting
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