The Smartlean method, what is it? What  concrete benefits this innovative approach developed by Accenture brings to our clients? Let’s dive into it with Alexandre Rosenwald, Head of Operational Excellence for the Strategy & Consulting teams of Accenture in France and Benelux and Sophie Jacquemet-Richard, Senior Manager Operations & Process Transformation.

What does Smartlean mean?

The Smartlean method is the combination of two approaches: The Lean method which was first used in the manufacturing industry before being adopted by the service sector. It allows to reduce cost and waste, increase speed, improve quality, consistency and scalability while taking into account the end consumer; and the Smart Automation method applied to RPA (Robotic process automation). Here metaphorical software robots (bots) or AI, by following a script, will mimic human interactions and perform several repetitive and non or low value-add activities, and enable employees to focus on more strategic tasks.

How to reconcile these two approaches? How do they complement each other?

These two approaches, although easy to implement, show their limits. For example, the Lean method was difficult to apply to opportunities impacting IT, which often involve long, complex, and costly transformations. On the other hand, RPA is a technology that has taken off in the past 5-7 years and whose effectiveness on low value-added activities is no longer to be demonstrated. However, its application was considered an IT subject that doesn’t require any strategic and prioritization approach. The Smartlean method takes the best of these two approaches: on the one hand, it allows to benefit from the Lean method, and apply it across systems thanks to RPA ; on the other hand, it takes advantage of the efficiency of RPA, which is easy to implement and maintain, to carry out robotization projects intelligently, while adopting a Lean approach to reduce wasteful practices and procedures, before embarking on automation.

What are the concrete benefits of this approach?

The Smartlean method increases performance and introduces continuous improvement to your teams. Combining the Lean method with a Smart Automation approach allows to prioritize improvement steps efficiently while implementing a Smart Lean project. This allows us, for example, to first standardize processes that share the same purpose and then automate them through RPA. The Lean method also increases the speed of project implementation. The processes are detailed and analyzed, which allows the teams to engage in a continuous improvement process.

How do you implement this method?

Some of our clients have already implemented the Lean method within their organization and need our expertise to take it to the next level. In this case, we help them implement the Smartlean method – we build on the processes that already went through a Lean approach and start automating them.

Others have heard about RPA effectiveness and want to implement it. As most companies don’t conduct a proper Lean diagnostic beforehand or rush it, we help them to conduct this Lean assessment prior to the RPA implementation.

The Smartlean approach improves the process in need of optimization and is part of an end-to-end efficiency journey. Upstream approaches allow us to run diagnostics and identify where we need to apply this method in priority. At Accenture, we call this the Prime Value Chain and we use proprietary digital accelerating tools such as Enterprise Navigator that help us during the assessment process. Downstream, we help create governance and a center of excellence that will allow the client to pursue the implementation and optimization of projects, but also go one step further and implement continuous improvement – thanks to the Lean approach – and maintain the robots thanks to RPA. By doing so, we ensure that if part of the processes need to be optimized or replaced in the future, our clients will be able to follow the performance of their robots, react quickly and make the necessary adaptations.

What makes this approach innovative?

This approach is innovative as it combines the agile framework, that makes incremental improvements and benefits quickly visible to our clients, and innovative tools such as dynamic analysis tools. In the Agile framework, we create backlogs, i.e. a list of functionalities that bring benefits. We then select groups of functionalities that we will develop during sprints, i.e. very accelerated and iterative project phases lasting 3 to 4 weeks. During each of these project phases, we will set up groups of functionalities, either Lean, robotics or hybrid. This will allow us every 3 to 4 weeks to improve the processes and achieve concrete benefits for our clients.

You mentioned the Enterprise Navigator tool, how do you use it?

We use it mainly in the diagnostic upstream phases. When clients contact us, there are generally two types of situations: either they have already identified the processes for which they need our expertise, in which case we will focus on them, in a classic Smartlean approach; or they tell us “we know there is potential for improvement and increased efficiency, but we don’t know how to unlock it, could you help us?”. In this case we adopt a Prime Value Chain (PVC) approach using the Enterprise Navigator tool, which allows us to map all the activities within the organization. Once all these activities have been mapped, we apply several filters such as FTE concentration, budget allocation or quality level using mapping and survey facilities hosted in Enterprise Navigator. These filters are defined with the client beforehand, according to its needs and bring out a number of issues or improvement points. This will allow us, for example, to optimize resource allocation, especially on low added value activities. Enterprise Navigator facilitates filters analysis trough data visualization and scenario-based performance forecasting.  In short, the Enterprise Navigator tool allows us to have a holistic view of an organization in a short period of time and to quickly identify possible areas for improvement.

Would you like to know more about the benefits of the Smartlean method for your organization? Feel free to download our capabilities deck and contact us:

@Sophie Jacquemet-Richard (Senior Manager – Operation & Process Transformation)

@Alexandre Rosenwald (Associate Director Strategy – Responsible for operational excellence for Accenture’s Strategy & Consulting teams in France and Benelux)