Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers.
In this episode of the podcast, the topic is "Augmented Lean Prelaunch." Our guest is Natan Linder, in conversation with host, Trond Arne Undheim.
In this conversation, we talk about the background of our co-authored book, Augmented Lean, a human-centric framework for managing frontline operations, why we wrote it, what the process has been like, the essence of the Augmented Lean framework, and the main lessons of this book for C-level executives across industry.
If you like this show, subscribe at augmentedpodcast.co. If you like this episode, you might also like Episode 96 on The People Side of Lean with Professor Jeff Liker.
Industrial revolutions are rarely chronicled as they are happening, but this industrial revolution will be. There is an ongoing shift in the way technology and workforce combine to produce industrial change, and it is happening now. We are lucky to be situated in the middle of it. And I personally feel fortunate that I was brought along for the ride.
It has been a life-changing experience to realize the power and impact of living through a shifting logic of manufacturing and, perhaps more importantly, to realize that as excited as we can be about automation, an augmented workforce represents the best combination of the most important technology we have which is human workers themselves with the second best machines that humans create. The fact that making humans and machines work together is no trivial task has been pointed out before but documenting what happens when it does go well in the biggest industrial companies on the planet feels like a story that deserves to be told.
TROND: Welcome to another episode of the Augmented Podcast. Augmented brings industrial conversations that matter, serving up the most relevant conversations on industrial tech. Our vision is a world where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers.
In this episode of the podcast, the topic is Augmented Lean Prelaunch. Our guest is Natan Linder, in conversation with myself, Trond Arne Undheim.
In this conversation, we talk about the background of our co-authored book, Augmented Lean, a human-centric framework for managing frontline operations, why we wrote it, what the process has been like, the essence of the Augmented Lean framework, and the main lessons of this book for C-level executives across industry.
Augmented is a podcast for industrial leaders, for process engineers, and for shop floor operators hosted by futurist Trond Arne Undheim and presented by Tulip.
Natan, good to have you in the studio. How are you today?
NATAN: I'm great. How are you? It's been a minute.
TROND: It's been a little minute for us. It's crazy with book launches. It takes a little out of you. And you are running a company in addition to that, so you had some other things on your plate too.
NATAN: Yep, running a company and having a book coming is an, I don't know if an artifact, but definitely, company is a lot about changing the status quo. And the book tries to capture a movement. So I think they go along nicely.
TROND: Yeah, Natan. And I wanted to bring us in a little bit and converse about why this book was written. Certainly, that's not my benefit. You brought it up to me. But what were we thinking about when writing this book? So I want to bring it back to way before I came into the picture with the book because it was your idea to write a book. What was on your mind? What were the main reasons that you thought I really want to write a book?
NATAN: When I was coming up as an engineer...and my background, I'm not a pure manufacturing production type engineer, but I've been around it my entire career just because of the type of products that I've been involved with whether it's mobile phones, or robots of all sorts, 3D printers. So you get to spend a lot of time in these operational environments, shop floors, machine shops, and the like.
And when we started working on Tulip, it was pretty clear pretty quickly that there's a moment that is emerging in operations that no one has captured the story. And this is back even; I don't know, maybe five or six years ago. We are maybe one or two years old, and I'm already starting to think about this post-lean, or classical lean movement that I'm sure is happening. That really is the genesis of the book in the early, early days.
And fast forward to when we started talking, I think we got Tulip off the ground. But really, that was a platform to meet all those different people who helped operations transform digitally, whether it's all sorts of consultants, or academics who are researching operations, or business leaders, you know, tons of factory managers and the engineers that work with them, and the executive, so a whole bunch of people. And they're all basically talking about the same thing and the deficiencies in lean, the complexity of technology, and how they're trying to change, and it is so difficult.
So I think that's a good description of the landscape before diving in to try and capture what the book attempts to capture.
TROND: Yeah, Natan, I remember some of our early discussions. And we were dancing around various concepts because clearly, lean is a very broad perspective in industrial manufacturing focused on reducing waste and many other things. It's a broad concept that people put a lot of different things into.
But I remember as you and I were thinking about how to describe this new phenomenon that we do describe in the book, we were thinking a little bit that a lot of these new influences come from the digital sphere. So there's also this term agile. There are some people who say, well, you know, let's just replace lean because it's an outdated paradigm. And I remember you were quite adamantly arguing that that's not the case. And this goes a little bit to the message in our book. We are in no way really saying that lean isn't relevant anymore.
NATAN: On the contrary.
TROND: Tell me a little bit about that.
NATAN: A really simple way I think to frame it is that whether you're practicing lean formally or some variant of it, of lean, or Six Sigma, or some program that formalizes continuous improvement in your operation...and we're talking about frontline operations. We're talking about factories, and labs, and warehouses, and places like that. You are practicing lean because this is how the world..., even if you're not doing it formally; otherwise, you're not competitive. Even if you're in a bank or a hospital, you might be practicing lean.
And that's where agile comes to the picture, and it was adopted widely by operations practice in general and pushed into areas that are not pure manufacturing. So, in a way, lean is a reality. Some organizations are more formal about it, some are less, but definitely, they're doing it.
Here's the issue, and this is the main thesis of the book. When lean came about...and we know the catalyzing text. We know the teaching of Taiichi Ohno. We know about The Goal. We know about The Machine That Changed the World. And those are seminal texts that everybody reads. And we know about Juran and lots of great thinkers who thought about operations as a data-driven game, some from the school of thought of quality, some from pure operation research, some from how do you put emphasis on classic just-in-time, Kanban, Kaizen, all those continuous improvement things.
But at the end of the day, all of that thinking, which still holds true, was not done when digital was top of mind, where data is everywhere, where people need to live in such data ecology. It was done, so to speak, in analog times. And it doesn't mean that the principles are wrong, but it doesn't mean they don't need to get augmented. And this is maybe the first time where this idea of augmentation, which, to me, augmentation is always about...I always think about augmentation from a people's perspective or an org perspective. It's just a collective of people. That's where it starts, and that's where we had something to say. So that's one aspect to think about.
The second big one is actually very simple. It's kind of like; we heard ten years of industry 4.0 is going to change everything, and all we got is this lousy OEE graph. And that's kind of like a little tongue-in-cheek on we were promised flying cars, but we only got 140 characters. I mean, come on, stop talking about industry 4.0. It's like, who cares?
If the tools and digital techniques and what have you is not adopted by the people actually doing the work, that then collectively, one engineer, another engineer, another operator, a team lead, the quality lead, and so on come together to transform their org, if that's not happening, then that's not sustainable transformation, and it's not very relevant. Again, augmentation.
TROND: Right. And I think, Natan, that's where maybe some people are surprised when they get into this book. Because it would be almost tempting to dismiss us as traditionalists in the sense that we are not really going whole hog into describing digital as in and of itself, the core of this principle. So there is a little bit of a critique of agile as an idea that agile or using that as a kind of a description for all digital or digital, right? That digital doesn't change everything.
And I guess I wanted to reflect a little bit on that aspect because I know that you, as a business leader now hiring a lot of people, we are spending a lot of energy bringing these two perspectives together, and it's not very obvious. You can't just take a digital person who is completely digital native and say, "Welcome to the factory; just do what you do. And because you do things better than everyone else, we are now going to adapt these factories." How do you think about that?
In factories, you could conceive it as the IT versus OT, so operational technologists versus information technologists and the various infrastructures that are quite different when those two things come into play.
NATAN: So my frame of reference is the most value...and it's a very engineery frame of reference because I'm an engineer at the end of the day. It's like, the most value gets unleashed when people truly change how they work and adopt a tool, and that's true for operations and manufacturing. But, by the way, it's also true for the greater business perspective.
And a lot of people, when I talk to them about Augmented Lean, really take us to the realms of what is the future of work, and I think it's very timely. We're kind of in a post-COVID reality. Working remote has changed many things, working with data. Big ideas like citizen development, you hear them all over the place. And use of advanced platforms like the no-code/low-code that allow people to create software without being software engineers become a reality. So there's a much broader thing here.
But if I focus for a second on what you're asking, the way I see it is when people truly change how they work, it means that they believe, and that belief translates into action, that the tool that they're using is the best way to do something. And they become dependent and empowered by it at the same time because they're not willing to go back to a state where they're not thinking and working with data, or back to the clipboard, or back to being dependent on an IT department or a service provider to give them some technical solution. People have become more self-sufficient.
And it turns out that if you do that, and sometimes people would refer to that as you let people hack or go nuts in the factory floor or in whatever operational environment, that could be a concern to people, and that's a fair observation for sure. And that's where when you look at the book, when we were kind of constructing the framework we call Leader HG where HG stands for hack and govern... We are used to Silicon Valley startups being like, oh yeah, you all just need to hack. And that's a very glorious thing, and everybody understands that.
And they want them to hack when they are a 50,000-person software company. They're still hacking, but they're doing it in a much more structured way, in a much more measured way. So even in hacking, there's governance. And in operational environment, governance is equally important, if not more, because you're making real things. That is something we've observed very empirically.
Talking to a lot of people seeing what they do, it's like, yeah, we want the best ideas from people. How do we get it? What do we do? We tried this approach, that approach. And I think we were sometimes very lucky to be observers to this phenomena and just captured it.
TROND: Yeah. And I wanted to speak to that a little bit. I want to thank you, actually, for bringing me into this project because you and I met at MIT but from different vantage points. I was working at Startup Exchange working with a bunch of very, very excellent MIT startups in all different domains, and you were an entrepreneur of several companies. But my background is more on the science and technology studies but also a management perspective on this.
But I remember one of the things you said early on to me was, "I want to bring you in on this project, but don't just be one of those that stays at the surface of this and just has like a management perspective and writes future of work perspectives but from like a bird's eye view. Come in here and really learn and go into the trenches."
And I want to thank you for that because you're right about many things. This one you were very right about. And this clearly, for me, became a true research project in that I have spent two years on this project, a lot of them in venues and factory floors, and discussing with people really at the ground level.
And for me, it was really a foundational experience. I've read about many things, but my understanding of manufacturing, frankly, was lacking. And you could have told me as much, but I actually, frankly, didn't realize how little I knew about all of the factors that go into manufacturing. I had completely underestimated the field. What do you say to that?
NATAN: It's interesting because I feel like the last two years, everything I think I know [laughs], then I found out that I don't know enough. It just kind of motivates you to do more work to figure out things because it's such a broad field, and it gets very, very specific.
Just listening to your reflection on the past couple of years, the reality is that there is a gap in the popular understanding of what operations and manufacturing is all about. People think that stuff comes from some amorphous factory or machine that just makes the things. And they usually don't see, you know, we have those saying, like, you don't want to see how the sausage is made, which is obviously very graphic.
But you also don't see how the car is made unless you're a nerd of those things and watch those shows like how things are made, but most people just don't. And they don't appreciate the complexity and what goes into it and how much technology and how much operation process it consumes. And as a society and as a set of collective economies and supply chains, it is so paramount to what's actually happening.
Just take things like sustainability or what happens with our planet. If we don't learn to manufacture things better and more efficiently with less people because we don't have enough people in operations, for example, our economies will start to crumble. And if we don't do it in a way that is not just sustainability from the perspective of saving the planet, also that, but if we don't become more efficient in our supply chains, then businesses will crumble because they can't supply their customers with the product that they need.
And this thing is never-ending because products have life cycles. Factories have life cycles. And the human species, that's what we do; we take technology, and then we turn it into products, and we mass produce it. That's part of how we survive. What we need is we increase awareness to this. And I think The Machine That Changed the World and Toyota Production System unveiled those concepts that you need to eliminate waste to build better organizations, to build a better product, to have happier customers; there's something really fundamental there that did not change.
The only thing that changed is that now we're doing it in a reality where the technology is out there; data is out there. And to wield it is difficult, and there is no escape from putting the people who do the work in the center. And to me, if we are capable of doing that, the impact of this is recharging or rebooting lean in the classic sense for the next three decades. And that's my personal hope for this book and the message we're hoping to bring in. We would love people to join that call and fly that flag.
TROND: Yeah. I wanted to take us now, Natan, to this discussion. A lot of people are saying, "Oh, you got to market manufacturing better, and then people will come to this area because there are interesting things to do there." But more broadly, if we think about our book and why people should read that, my first reflection is building on what I said earlier that I didn't realize not just the complexity of manufacturing but how interesting it was.
My take after two years of studying this is actually that there's no need to market it better because it is so interesting and fundamental for the economy that the marketing job, I think, essentially has already been done. And it's just there's a lag in the system for new employees, new talent. And society overall realizes how fundamentally it is shifting and reconfiguring our society.
But I guess I want to ask you more. What is the reason a C-level executive, whether they work in manufacturing, in some industrial company, or really, if they work in any company that is interested in what technology and manufacturing is doing to their business reality...how they can implement some of those ideas in their business. What would you say to them? I mean, is our book relevant to a business leader in any Fortune 500? Or would you say that our messages are kind of confined to an industrial setting?
NATAN: I think it applies to all of them. And the reason is that these types of roles that you're describing, folks will best be served if they learn from other people's experience. And what we tried to do in the book is to bring almost an unfiltered version of the stories of their peers across various industries, from medical devices, to pharmaceuticals, to classic discrete manufacturing, all sorts of industries. And they're all struggling with the same kind of stuff. And so those stories are meaningful and can contextualize the thinking of what those C-levels are actually trying to cope with.
What they're really trying to do, everybody, I'd say, is why do people think about and talk about those big terms of digital transformation? It's really because they want to make sure their companies don't stay behind or, in other words, stay competitive. This stuff is an imperative for organizations that have real operations that span digital and physical, and I don't know many that don't. Of course, there are some service industries that don't have anything but still have operations.
You can't avoid handling the subject and what it entails. It entails training your people differently. It entails defining technology stacks. It entails connecting using various technologies, protocols, what have you, across organizations and finding value in this data so you can make good decisions on how you run your billing cycles, or how you order your stock to build, or how you ship your end product and everything in between.
And I don't think that the book is groundbreaking in the sense that we're the first people who ever thought about it. But I think if we've done anything, is we've observed long and hard. And we've listened very carefully to what people are telling us that they did, and they struggled. And it's a timely book. And maybe in a decade, it's a classic, and, wow, these are good stories. And it's like reading about the first people booting up mainframes or PCs. And if that happens, I'm actually pretty happy.
But you know why I would be happy? Trond, let me tell you something, it's because technology, like, the human needs change much slower than how technology evolves and gets deployed, but still, good technological-driven transformation take a long time.
TROND: That's exactly what I was going to say is that the future is an interesting concept because what's tomorrow to some people is today for others. So you say we're not writing about something that's so new or unique but to industry overall and to some manufacturers, what we're writing about is the future because they haven't implemented it yet.
To some of Tulip customers, to some of the great companies that we have researched in the book, whether they be J&J, Stanley Black & Decker, DMG MORI, a lot of other companies in medical device side, and also smaller and medium-sized companies, even some startups that are implementing some the Augmented Lean principles, to them, this is of course not the future.
And maybe, you know, we're not saying that leaders who try to implement Augmented Lean need to change everything around; we're saying common sense things. It's just that; clearly, all of industry is not human-centric, right? There are parts of industry where you adjust 80% to your machines, and you make economic decisions purely based on the infrastructure efficiency improvements you're trying to make. I guess what we're saying is the innovation argument; people are the most innovative, and you have to restructure around your workforce, even if you are making machine and robot investments.
NATAN: Yeah, automation would always require strong reasons to automate that, you know, some of them are complexity, safety risk, things like that or throughput to like how much product do you need and that kind of stuff. But even if you have the best automation, you typically have people around it, and nothing is just only machine-driven or only human-driven.
The reality is that most stuff gets made through a combination of several manufacturing technologies working in unison with people at the beginning, middle-end doing things from the planning, to running automation setups and machinery, to taking the output, doing assembly, doing tests, audits and checks, and packaging, and logistics, and at the end of the day, human-intensive type of operation in most of the areas we roam, at least.
And as such, to think that in this day and age you don't focus on people is to me nuts when all those people carry a supercomputer called a smartphone in their hand and have uber-connected homes with a million CPUs streaming all this data, and we call that media, whatever. And they're so accustomed to interfacing to their world and their businesses through that.
And you and I are Gen Xers, and let's just think about the generation that comes after us and after us. These are digital natives par excellence. They expect as much, and organizations that don't do that, whether they choose the Augmented Lean approach or any other approach, they're just not going to have employees. That's a little bit of a problem.
TROND: Yeah. But it's important what you're saying in one respect which is there are many reasons to dismiss a book, a management book, a technology book. And one could be like; all these people are just that. And one, I guess, gut reaction when people look at the title or perhaps hear some of the things that you and I are saying is that, oh, these people are Luddites; they're against technology.
But I wanted to, certainly on my end, just to state very clearly there's nothing in our book that's against technology. We're simply saying to optimize for the simplest technology, that is, you know, to our great inspiration here, who was a big inspiration, I know, for you and now for me because you brought her into my sphere. Pattie Maes' perspective from MIT on Fluid Interfaces and the importance, you know, no matter what advanced technology you're going to bring into whatever context, if that context of the technology, the use interface is not a fluid interface, you are simply doing yourself a disservice.
You could have bought a $1 million CNC machine or maybe a $10 million whatever robot, but it has to work in your own organization, and this is just so important. So we're not against technologies. We're just saying these investments will be made. But you have to think about other things as you're making those investments. So I just wanted to make that point and hear your comment to that.
NATAN: Yeah, look, I have a slightly...I guess a complementary angle to this is like when you think about it; I think that technologically democratized organizations in the day and age we living in the future. And what makes, I think, Augmented Lean span beyond the frontline operation perspective is because it tells a story of democratizing operation where fundamentally before lean...and we're talking about the mass production era. Mass production came from a military structure, you know, divisions, and battalions, and commanders, and ranks, and all that kind of stuff.
Enters lean, and democratization starts. Forget technology. It starts because suddenly everybody on the Gemba Walk, you know, the walk where they have an equal voice to find problems on the shop floor, and list them up, and think about a solution, everybody has a voice. So these are fundamental things that shifted things like how you manage your warehouse, or how you do just-in-time, or how you are supposed to do continuous improvement. But you have to collect data to prove that this improvement is actually worthwhile doing.
And this is exactly what agile took, and this is exactly the transition you saw in, well, because the market moves so fast and the internet is here, and clouds are real, why don't we not spend two years in a bunker doing waterfall software development? And, boom, we're now talking sprints and all that kind of stuff. And no one is even questioning that. And that's a lean approach we call agile, lean approach to how you do software development.
And what I'm trying to say is, de facto, when I run a day in a company, like, I talk to my peers, and my leaders, and folks I work with on a daily basis. Everybody talks, yeah, we're on an operation sprint. We are on a marketing sprint. We are on a whatever sprint. What is that? That is a democratized organization with specific leaders owning functions and owning interfaces using tech stacks all over the place: the marketing stack, the sales stack, the HR stack, whatever.
And where we roam also, we're part of the operational or OT stack, and that's what they're doing. And all this book is doing is saying, like, hey, it's actually happening. Let's give this a name. Let's put the beacon on this. Let's try and find what's the commonalities. Let's get the best stories that share the successes and the failures. We have plenty of failures there in the book that teach you something at this moment in time and set up the next decade.
This next decade to me, is seminal. It's not very different to when technologies reached maturity, like clouds and what have you. 10, 15 years ago, you're talking about this thing, cloud, some people will go like, "What cloud? What are you talking about?" That's done. That's the disappearing edge of technology. Now we say AI and all that kind of stuff. And then the problem gets solved and disappearing, you know, it's like, so that's going to happen. I just think we gave it a good name and a good description at this point in time.
TROND: Natan, I love the...personally, I'm a runner. I love the metaphor of a sprint, and for a couple of reasons, not just because I know what a sprint is and what it takes. But I love the fact that a sprint in a management context refers to sprinting partly together because it's a team-based effort. So some people need to sprint a little faster in certain aspects of that team process in order to deliver things that the team needs.
But rounding up and thinking about how people can sprint with us, Natan, how should people think about learning more? So, obviously, reading the book. It's available on every bookstore, and Wiley published it, and it should be everywhere. There's even an e-book.
But beyond that, what are your thoughts about how people can get in touch, join the movement, join the sprint of thinking about Augmented Lean? Which by the way, there is no one Augmented Lean principle. It's a menu of choices. There are ways that you can engage. There are ways you can implement it. It's not like a one, three-step process that everybody has to do. But there are ways that people can connect. We have this Augmented Podcast. What are your thoughts if people are gelling with this message?
NATAN: I can talk about my heart's desire, okay, and my hallucination around this. And this is like, really, kind of living the dream and making sure democratization continues. If we are successful, at the moment, we are starting a movement. And there are millions of people who self-identify as lean Six Sigma quality professionals out there that know exactly what we're talking about viscerally. They spend their days trying to solve problems like that. They pore over data; they train people. They are the people creating the reports and trying to kind of help their organization take another step and another step in the never-ending journey of continuous improvement.
We need to work on a much larger manifesto for Augmented Lean, and this is not for you and me; this is for a greater community to come together. So my recommendation is if you dig this and this is something you want to do, you know where to find us; go to augmentedlean.com. There's a contact email, our contact information. And I guess we can share it for that purpose somewhere in Augmented Podcast or our various other channels. And tell us what you think. And just join us.
We're not sure exactly...we're starting from the excitement around launching the book with our close network of partners, and friends, and customers, and collaborators, and all our network. And it's a very exciting moment for us. But we're going to open it up, and it's going to be in the book tour, and it's going to be in various conferences.
And the first law of creating a movement is show up. So I'm calling everybody to show up if you're okay with lean and the way it's going so far for you and Six Sigma. But if you feel the need to change and observed or experienced some of the stuff we're talking about in Augmented Lean, come tell us about it, and let's shape it up and get people together. The internet is the best tool on the planet to do that, and we'll get it done. Stay safe.
TROND: Right. So, on that note, I want to round us off. I think that it should at least be clear from this conversation that both of us strongly feel that there are greater things ahead for industry and that manufacturing is not just a relevant piece of society, but there are things happening here that are coalescing that we are describing in the book, but that will happen independently of us and the very few examples we were able to put into the book.
And folks that are interested in exploring what that means for them as individuals, as knowledge workers in the factory floor, or as executives who just want to be inspired the way people were inspired by the Toyota lean movement or other movements, they should come and contact us. Natan, thanks for spending the time today.
NATAN: Yeah. Thanks, Trond. Always a pleasure. Will see you very soon.
TROND: You have now just listened to another episode of the Augmented Podcast with host Trond Arne Undheim.
The topic was Augmented Lean Prelaunch. Our guest was Natan Linder, in conversation with myself, Trond Arne Undheim. In this conversation, we talked about why we wrote a book and why C-level executives should read it.
My takeaway is that industrial revolutions are rarely chronicled as they are happening, but this industrial revolution will be. There is an ongoing shift in the way technology and workforce combine to produce industrial change, and it is happening now. We are lucky to be situated in the middle of it. And I personally feel fortunate that I was brought along for the ride.
It has been a life-changing experience to realize the power and impact of living through a shifting logic of manufacturing and, perhaps more importantly, to realize that as excited as we can be about automation, an augmented workforce represents the best combination of the most important technology we have which is human workers themselves with the second best machines that humans create. The fact that making humans and machines work together is no trivial task has been pointed out before but documenting what happens when it does go well in the biggest industrial companies on the planet feels like a story that deserves to be told. Thanks for listening.
If you liked the show, please subscribe at augmentedpodcast.co. And if you liked this episode, you might also like Episode 96 on The People Side of Lean with Professor Jeff Liker, who wrote the best-selling book, The Toyota Way. Hopefully, you'll find something awesome in these or in other episodes, and if so, do let us know by messaging us because we would love to share your thoughts with other listeners.
The Augmented Podcast is created in association with Tulip, the frontline operation platform that connects the people, machines, devices, and systems used in a production and logistics process in a physical location. Tulip is democratizing technology and is empowering those closest to operations to solve problems. You could find Tulip at tulip.co.
Augmented — industrial conversations that matter. See you next time.