Imprinting on lean
CASE STUDY – Combining the lean and agile methodologies, HP’s site in Barcelona has streamlined and greatly improved its product development. Along the way, they transformed their culture, too.
Words: Xavier Bruch, Vicenç Llorens and Guayente Sanmartín Gabás
HP Barcelona, located in Sant Cugat del Vallés (Spain), is the largest R&D center the company has outside of the US. It has also been the headquarters of Large Format Printing for more than 20 years, which means HP Barcelona has the worldwide responsibility on this side of the business.
Research and Development plays a fundamental role in our company by analyzing market needs and developing what we call “programs”, or products, that meet those needs. Each program corresponds to a new Large Format inkjet printer, as this technology is our specialty. Aware of the importance of the HP Barcelona site, the company decided to invest in our campus, inaugurating an R&D center to develop our own industrial 3D printing technology.
This article tells the story of how the Large Format Printing business pioneered the use of Lean and Agile thinking within all our operations in Barcelona.
In 2017, with the goal of increasing our organizational effectiveness, our teams decided to turn to Lean and Agile – building on pre-existing agile practices – to help us to shorten lead-times and become more adaptable to external and internal changes. In our minds, these are the ingredients of sustainable competitiveness.
Lean came with the promise of reducing the number of platforms (in true-set based concurrent engineering style), to get to a point where we have a customizable portfolio of “base products”, to which sub-components (or assets) can be added to adapt them to the needs of our customers.
We saw this transformation as an opportunity to become more agile in our decision-making and in responding to customer needs, but also (and perhaps more importantly) to change our culture. We wanted to become a business in which learning happens continuously – that’s the key to success and the only true enabler of lasting change – but that sort of cultural transformation cannot happen without the support of both the front line and management. This was a breakthrough for us early in the journey.
We wanted to achieve real change, to leave something that would survive us and become part of the way we do business at HP. We knew it would take time, because a real transformation must grow from within the organization organically (our coaches Oriol Cuatrecasas and Nestor Gavilan from Instituto Lean Management told us as much from day one), but we were determined.
So, we selected a team of developers, from both Hardware and Firmware, and began running pilot projects with them. That’s when the learning began.
BRINGING TOGETHER LEAN AND AGILE
This would be a change management journey, not just an approach based on a few tools and methods. It is with this in mind that we set out to combine our agile structure (which was already in place, especially in our Firmware team) with several fundamental lean elements that until then had been missing, like visual management in the shape of the Obeya. Up until then, when a team finished a project they did a retrospective, but there were no clear metrics to track to generate learning and lead to corrective actions. Agile is a useful methodology for us, but it was putting it together with Lean Thinking that gave us the means to truly transform our culture.
However, we are not into dogmas, and we were never too prescriptive: we took elements of both lean and agile and mixed them up. The recipe ended up working, as our pilots showed, and we were never truly worried about which of the two “books” we consulted more often. All we were worried about was that people would see the benefits of the changes we made and perceive the tools and methods we introduced (whether lean or agile) as enablers of a more modern and efficient way of working.
THE FIRST PILOTS
We had different types of pilots. From those that spanned the entire delivery of a product (including hardware and firmware) to smaller one – like the first one we did, the Ink Delivery System – that focused on sub-systems for our printers. We wanted our scrum-like teams to be autonomous in the experimentation of this new way of working.
It is also undeniable that we were able to identify the right people from the very first pilot. The leaders selected were incredibly open from day one and having their support was critical to driving our Lean and Agile transformation forward. These early adopters acted as explorers and ambassadors, and it is thanks to them that Lean Thinking took off at HP Sant Cugat – all we did was planting a seed and supporting them.
But things weren’t easy at first. We experienced quite a bit of resistance coming from the front line. The feedback coming from advocates (people willing to experiment with the change) in those early days was quite positive, but we also had detractors, with people telling us things like “This is slower”; “We don’t need lean”; “We don’t see any benefit”; “It’s twice as much work!”. What we learned at that critical time in the transformation was that Lean Thinking has to be something of a commandment early on in a journey: there has to be a clear, top-down expectation from leadership that this is the “new way of doing things”.
We also discovered that, in many ways, having detractors is incredibly important, because they are the ones who often experience the work most viscerally and are most passionate about it. They put things in such a negative light that they help you see what you need to do differently.
As we look back at that time, we realize that the reason we were able to get people on board was that we could show them the benefits of Lean Thinking. For instance, when we did the first Hoshin Kanri of our tactical plan, there were people we thought were never going to embrace this new way of working. However, after some practice, they did, especially once the benefits became clear (for instance, when they realized they could quickly review the business strategy and how each area was contributing to it). It’s extraordinary how powerful it is to simply work with metrics and move a sticky note from one column to another: gradually, more and more people started to recognize the value of lean change and came knocking on our door to ask when their turn to “lean out” would be.
The success of the pilots showed people that lean was a way to empower them to improve the work and anticipate and solve problems. Along the way, we learned a lot more about pull, customer delivery and flow, as team members from across the organization began to work together to make things better.
EVOLUTION AND THE PANDEMIC
The Darwin program stemmed from the reasons mentioned above. At some point, we realized we couldn’t bring change without an end-to-end vision of the process, the organization, and its strategy. So, in 2019, we initiated a change-management program (HP people are familiar with named initiatives and are fluent in that sort of language) that looked at our work end to end. We named it Darwin, inspired by one of the naturalist’s greatest quotes: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.” With this new ethos and a big-picture view, many more pilots were kicked off, which further improved our performance.
Between 2019 and 2020 we became more structured in our approach to the lean transformation. We created better alignment of the goals that we needed to achieve across the business, implemented tools that teams could use to improve processes, developed the capabilities of our people, and further changed our management routines (paying more attention to governance through Hoshin Kanri).
This process and cultural transformation were done, starting in March 2020, with Covid-19 adding an extra layer of complexity to an already difficult transition. Not only were we extending the reach of our lean journey, but we were also forced by the pandemic to substantially accelerate our digitization. Our analog set-up became digital in the span of a month, as our Obeya, Hoshin, and other tools were digitalized so that we could continue to use them despite the fact most of us were now working from home.
CONSOLIDATING… AND ASSESSING
In 2021, we have started to consolidate the improvements made and the results achieved, while we continue to bring lean and agile to areas of the business that haven’t seen them yet. As we do so, it’s important we find the right balance between taking the foot off the pedal to allow the organization the time to interiorize the changes and ensuring more improvements are made. As part of this effort, this year we have also created a fully independent PMO (Program Management Office) – a structural change that has helped us to further consolidate standards and spread methods and culture across the organization.
Now that a critical mass of people has embraced our lean and agile transformation, it would be easy to become complacent. Instead, to show gaps in our approach and ensure improvement continues, we developed an assessment model based on the five dimensions of the Lean Transformation Framework translated to fit our unique situation. This assessment helps us to answer the fundamental question, “How lean and agile are we?”.
As we analyze all our programs – both hardware and software – using the tool’s criteria, we learn what the different areas in the business should be focusing on to improve and better contribute to the organization’s transformation. We found, for example, that some programs were strong in terms of metrics, but not in terms of leadership; others had strong leaders but were weaker on the results front. The introduction of the assessment was another critical point in our journey.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF LEADERSHIP
Our approach to leadership – what we want all our leaders to fully grasp – is based on three simple ideas: agility, making decisions lower in the company structure, and managers who act as coaches.
At HP, the idea that managers are coaches is not new, but in the day to day this is often easier said than done. Not all managers are there yet, but we are seeing more and more of them embracing their role as facilitators, as coaches. Guides, if you will. In our minds, leaders are here to ensure that the work people do has an impact and that the value they create reaches the customer. This makes it necessary to make transparency the main characteristic of life at work, so that everyone knows how the business is doing at once, understands what their role is and how it fits into the overall picture, and is enabled to tap into their full potential.
With lean and agile, everyone can now explain where they are week after week, and what the gap between expected and real is. Before it, some areas were only reviewed once every three months. It’s that tracking of the situation that ultimately “does the trick”: it sheds a light on the problem, which Lean Thinking and Agility then allow us to solve quickly by making data-driven decisions, engaging people, and working as teams.
THE IMPACT OF OUR TRANSFORMATION
Our latest printer introduced in the market, one of the first programs we managed entirely under the umbrella of our lean and agile transformation, is one of the most complex we ever tried to deliver. We are thrilled that it was the best-quality and highest-selling program to ever come out of our site – and in the middle of a pandemic to boot! It was a triumph for the organization, one for which everyone is responsible. There are also great benefits for HP as a whole: people in non-R&D functions have started to reach out to us to introduce the same lean ideas and techniques in their own environments. We know we have a long way to go still (it is called continuous improvement for a reason), but in truth we have never felt more prepared to introduce new programs than we do today.
As we reflect on the past few years, we realize that lean and agility really speak to our people, especially the youngest among us. They feel like, with every kaizen, they are learning something new, they are being reskilled. Growing professionally is a huge reason we come to work every morning, and it’s the least we can give our people.
THE COACHES COMMENT
by Oriol Cuatrecasas and Néstor Gavilán
This has been a wonderful journey to observe. The leaders had the right vision, and the determination to make it happen. They weren’t starting from zero: the company only needed a couple of extra cogs for the mechanism to start moving. Lean is an extra ingredient but adding it doesn’t mean to get rid of everything else.
To watch the team make the transformation happen was wonderful. From the meetings in the Obeya, where their great knowledge of the work transpired through the challenging questions managers asked, to the speed at which the digitization of the business was carried out after Covid came, we have been impressed every step of the way. As coaches, it was often challenging to have such talented people in front of us, challenging our approach and asking lots of questions, but those exchanges led to incredible learnings for everyone involved. We have asked HP Large Format Organization to share their experience with other organizations – from hotels to bakeries and manufacturers – and that cross-fertilization has been very meaningful in their lean journeys as much as in those of the other organizations.