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Manufacturing Agility: Edwards LifeSciences Reduces WIP by 70%

Globally distributed, cross-functional teams are now more connected than ever.

Published By Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell

A patient-first approach has always been at the heart of Edwards’ business (pun intended); but as the business grew in size and complexity, it struggled to achieve the manufacturing agility required to perform at scale. That’s when LeanKit became part of the Edwards story. With LeanKit, Edwards’ globally distributed teams are able to connect strategy to delivery, plan and replan with agility, and empower their teams to focus on what really matters: Improving the lives of the patients they serve.

This post highlights the perspective of Jordan Nguyen, former Sr. Receiving Inspection Technologist at Edwards Lifesciences, and now Product Manager, Cross Product Solutions at Planview. We’re thrilled to have Jordan on board! The unique insights he brings from his time as a Planview customer add tremendous value to our product teams.

“LeanKit has come to be recognized as an application that is used globally at every single manufacturing site we have, as well as the majority of all of our satellite offices around the world.”

Jordan Nguyen

Agile Mindset Drives Medical Innovations

Manufacturing agility is a benefit caused by Agile and Lean manufacturing — a set of practices, principles, and tools that enable companies to respond swiftly to customer needs and market demands while maintaining quality and controlling costs. It requires not only a mindset that embraces failure, but also a commitment to continuous improvement and iteration so that breakthrough ideas can thrive. Edwards LifeSciences has prioritized those values in their culture since the beginning.

Edwards LifeSciences was originally founded in 1958 by a retired engineer who had a big dream: To develop technologies that would prolong and improve the lives of heart disease patients. At the age of 60, Miles “Lowell” Edwards’ set out to develop an artificial heart. He joined forces with a 32-year-old cardiac surgeon, Albert Starr, and together, the two worked over many years to invent the Starr-Edwards heart valve, an artificial heart valve.

Of their success, an Oregon Health and Science University article quotes, “The story of the Starr-Edwards valve is not about a major breakthrough achieved in a single-step, but rather it is about two inventors with the vision and ambition whom failure never daunted. Their mantra was to learn from each failure, rethink the options, and try again.”

These values, of thoughtful collaboration, incremental progress, and a patient-first approach, have remained at the core of the company’s culture throughout its rich history.

Today, Edwards Lifesciences is a global leader in medical innovations for structural heart disease, critical care, and surgical monitoring, operating in over 100 countries. Achieving and maintaining manufacturing agility over decades, in an industry that is rapidly changing, is no small feat. Like the development of the Starr-Edwards valve, it requires vision, incremental improvement, and, of course, the right tools for the job.

Inefficient Whiteboards Limit Manufacturing Agility

In 2018, the warehouse team at the corporate headquarters in Irvine, CA, was experiencing a serious roadblock to agility: They had been using physical whiteboards to track their workflow, creating a ripple effect of issues.

“[External teams] …had no clue what was happening. You would just know that it’s in the warehouse, being worked on, and that’s about it.”

Jordan Nguyen

First, critical information was constantly at risk of being erased or changed in error. One accidental swipe of an eraser could permanently delete vital information the team needed to track internal work orders. 

Also troubling: The information also couldn’t be shared in a timely way, causing bottlenecks in productivity.

Finally, outside teams, according to Jordan, “…had no clue what was happening. You would just know that it’s in the warehouse, being worked on, and that’s about it,” he remarked.

Creating Workflow Visibility

The team decided to sign up for a free trial of LeanKit, and never looked back. With LeanKit, the team found a centralized system that enabled them to visualize their workflow and share notifications automatically in real-time.

“Ideally, that’s the environment we wanted to create. A place where our programs and applications are communicating and working together so that our employees are being more effective.”

Jordan Nguyen

Being able to communicate in real time across teams was a manufacturing agility game changer: “Maybe it’s an R&D team asking for an update on a work order,” or floor operators communicating issues to engineers, “…it closed our communication gap,” says Jordan.

Among the essential features for the warehouse team was LeanKit’s ability to quickly integrate with existing applications. Jordan points out, “Ideally, that’s the environment we wanted to create. A place where our programs and applications are communicating and working together so that our employees are being more effective.”

Connecting Global Teams

Implementing LeanKit was a huge win for the small receiving warehouse team. Simply by switching their physical whiteboards for LeanKit boards, the team was able to reduce their work-in-process (WIP) by a whopping 70% – which caught the attention of some higher-ups in the company.

“Management saw the amount of money we’re saving because we were able to improve our process. We were able to quickly quantify that there is something here with LeanKit.”

Jordan Nguyen

“Management saw the amount of money we’re saving because we were able to improve our process. We were able to quickly quantify that there is something here with LeanKit,” he continues.

At the end of 2018, Edwards Lifesciences had purchased 77 licenses of LeanKit. By the end of 2019, that number had grown to 227 licenses, across R&D, audits, labs, projects, manufacturing, and other departments.

Fast-forward to 2020, a devastating year that saw many companies forced to furlough or reduce employees because of COVID; Edwards prioritized innovation and growth, making significant investments in R&D and expanding its team to nearly 15,000 worldwide. And while the spirit of innovation remained a central philosophy to Edwards, the traditional methods of collaboration necessary to pursue those aims faced entirely novel challenges imposed by the pandemic.

“Remote work, working from home, you have all these teams looking for a method to communicate with each other to track their work,” says Jordan. Luckily, Jordan knew just the tool to suggest: LeanKit.

With LeanKit, teams are not limited by the need to be physically co-located around a whiteboard. They can share critical information about work status, requirements, and more through LeanKit boards customized to mirror their workflows, unlocking greater manufacturing agility than ever before.

“LeanKit has come to be recognized as an application that is used globally at every single manufacturing site we have, as well as the majority of all of our satellite offices around the world,” he emphasized.

Globally Distributed, Always Connected

Distributed across over 100 countries, the Edwards LifeSciences team is more connected than ever, with over 617 licenses and counting.

Over 170 cross-functional boards are now being used by microbiology labs to track and communicate test samples, chemistry labs to share status and historical data of test results, the Audit Board in Japan to track audit requests, and recently, the HR team adopted LeanKit adding to the groundswell of support throughout the global organization.

The Edwards LifeSciences team is just one of countless success stories showing how digital Kanban boards can help organizations eliminate waste, improve workflow efficiency, and unlock manufacturing agility.

Read Next: Eliminate Waste and Continuously Improve with Lean Manufacturing

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Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Written by Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Sr. Content Strategist

Liz is a content strategist at Planview. She worked at LeanKit prior to the company being acquired by Planview. With more than 7 years’ of Agile experience, Liz passionately believes in the transformative power that practicing Lean-Kanban principles can have on teams and organizations.