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Why is Manual Reporting Not Lean?

Can you imagine a scenario where a manufacturer uses lean techniques to improve production but when collecting and contextualizing data, those lean techniques go out the window? We can. It happens pretty regularly actually.  

Manufacturers put all of the time and effort into implementing lean thinking, yet when it comes to reporting, that system is anything but lean. Hundreds and hundreds of hours a month are spent on reporting and collecting data. THIS IS NOT LEAN.  

We wrote a blog about replacing paper and Excel with an automated system; we still stand by that. However, it’s worth expanding on why an automated system is important in today’s day and age.  

Tedious, Manual Reporting is Not Lean 

Think about the process of mistake-proofing things. How do you mistake-proof someone writing down information on a piece of paper, someone else transferring that information to Excel, another person summarizing the information, and then finally, yet another person distributing that information? The honest answer is, you can’t. You can’t possibly mistake-proof a long, tedious process involving multiple different people at different times.  

The opportunities for mistakes and problems are abundant. There is an unbelievable amount of waste involved in these types of processes. 

This manual production reporting process exists in real-world manufacturing and is surprisingly, very common. It’s not unusual for an operator to record data on paper reports. Then, a supervisor walks around to each station to collect the reports the operators have created. The supervisor brings those reports to the back office where someone compiles the data records into a report. Sound tedious? It is, but there’s even more.  

All of those reports typically only reflect a snapshot of a single day. If you need a week’s worth of data, you have to roll up all of the days of the week into a single weekly report. Monthly? Quarterly? It’s the same, tedious, manual process.  

Then, let’s say an Exec is reviewing the quarterly report, but he or she has a question about what happened during a specific week, a particular day. The Exec goes back to the person that compiled the report, but they aren’t sure because they didn’t report the data on that day, only compiled the report. Then, the Exec asks the supervisor, but they don’t remember that far back. So, both go to the operator, but the same problem results – no one can remember a specific day because although the data was recorded, there was no real-time data that indicated a problem so the issue wasn’t found until days later, and now, no one can remember what happened on a specific day.

The whole process is manual and tedious. There is a whole group of people tasked with collecting, analyzing, and putting together spreadsheets. THIS IS NOT LEAN. 

Isn’t Manual Reporting the Opposite of Lean Manufacturing?

No longer do the time and labor extensive reporting methods work, or for that matter, bring any sort of efficiency to the process. If a manufacturer is taking the steps to embrace Industry 4.0, why would reporting be left out of that improvement? It confuses us, too. 

In the book, Lean Thinker, authors James Womack and Daniel Jones (and quoted by author Jeffrey K. Liker in The Toyota Way) explain lean manufacturing as a 5 step process:  

  1. Defining customer value 
  2. Defining the value stream  
  3. Making it “flow” 
  4. “Pulling” from the customer 
  5. Striving for excellence 

Liker further explains that “to be a lean manufacturer requires a way of thinking that focuses on making the product flow through value-adding processes without interruption (one-piece flow), a “pull” system that cascades back from customer demand by replenishing only what the next operation takes away at short intervals, and a culture in which everyone is striving to improve.” 

If the goal of lean manufacturing is to try to eliminate non-value-added steps in the process, the example used at the beginning of this blog is absolute, 100% not lean. Yet, manufacturers continue to practice these methods. 

There’s a Better Solution

Reporting doesn’t have to be manual or time-consuming! Mind-blowing, right?  

Instead, value-added process flows without interruption, and employees continually working to improve can be a reality. 

This is our advice: step away from the whiteboard. You don’t need an operator to write numbers down on a whiteboard, a supervisor to review and copy the data, a person in an office to compile the data into a spreadsheet, and then the process repeats. Drop the dry erase markers. There’s a better solution.  

In the end, “the ultimate goal of lean manufacturing is to the ideal of one-piece flow,” Liker explains, “to all business operations, from product design to launch, order taking and physical production.” 

Ditch the manual reporting system. Practice lean manufacturing and one-piece flow by implementing a reporting system that works in real-time, to show you the problems that arise, as they’re happening. Save your operators, supervisors, and reporting staff time and effort.  

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Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.