[lead]”We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” – Anon[/lead]
Do you ever get too busy to take the time to notice your energy is spent in the wrong place?
Years ago I had a tire on my car that had a slow leak. With a busy schedule and a new baby at home it was difficult to carve out the time to take it in for repair, instead I would simply fill it up when it dropped low enough to alert my tire pressure sensor in my car. After a few weeks I realized that all it took was a few extra minutes in the morning every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, where I would pull out the trusty bike pump and bring it up to the recommended operating pressure. Those were my “arm and shoulder” days. While this worked, it wasn’t efficient; I probably spent a few hours’ time cumulatively pumping air into an unstable reservoir. Not a LEAN process indeed.
I’ll try to refrain from creating a post riddled with anecdotes, quotes, and idioms, though I’m sure they’ll come to mind to you as well, as I extoll the merits of running a LEAN organization.
[pullquote]the method of examining a series of steps, process, or workflow in order to identify opportunities to identify and eliminate waste.[/pullquote]
What is LEAN?
You may not be familiar with the term LEAN, but I’m certain you’re familiar with the concept: the method of examining a series of steps, process, or workflow in order to identify and eliminate waste. A popular framework within LEAN methodology is Kaizen, which is Sino-Japanese for “good change.” In an age of catchy or meaningless-yet-buzzy-sounding names, “good change” is refreshing, no? Nearly every business sector has adopted LEAN at one level or another.
Some businesses in manufacturing have gone so far as to enable the lowest level plant worker to halt production if a solvable problem is discovered. Now, that may be extreme for most organizations, but think of the possibilities: you’re producing widgets or providing a service to your clients that sell for $9.50/unit and your costs are around $3.75/unit, but midstream you realize that by making a few adjustments you could knock another $0.25 off the cost of producing each widget or service! Wouldn’t you take that 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week to halt production to introduce this new efficiency?
How To Introduce LEAN To Your Organization
Like most philosophical business shifts, this will need to be championed from the top. It’s often helpful to bring in outside help to roll out the new methodology, coach stakeholders, and run at least the first group of projects through a waste walk. Bear in mind this is a change you will do business from here on out— not a quick fix and you’re back to operating at one’s comfort level. A willingness to continually evaluate workflow should become the new norm for a LEAN organization.
What a LEAN Organization Looks Like
Some may be reading the line about continuous evaluation and wonder, “how do I get any real work done?” This doesn’t mean you stop production or stop selling, but rather evaluate at naturally occurring break points in your business.
Agile Development is all the rage in software and Web development these days. The typical sprint is 2-3 weeks, so at the end of each sprint, during the retrospective meeting a LEAN discussion may be tacked on. A natural fit with the mindset of the retrospective, if you ask me.
Telemarketing and Sales
Many operations run on either a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the product. At the end of the cycle, each team should discuss successes, failures, and areas that were cumbersome or unnecessary to complete the sale. After teams discuss, team leads should have that discussion with their managers and directors, bringing to light the new information discovered on the floor.
Depending on the product, this might be quarterly or, unfortunately, pushed off to an annual recap meeting, broken into teams & supervisors, then supervisors together with their managers or plant manager. In the case of the annual review, it’s important to provide continuously open channels for factory workers to provide feedback and suggestions to management regarding improvement opportunities.
Services (incl. heathcare and cust. service)
Anything billing hourly or per-visit rates. It goes without saying regular staff meetings are a must, whether these are weekly or monthly, it’s important supervisors are aware of process and all the side-channels customers and work enters the workflow. Not every case of work (customer) begins with step #1 – 16, or 1 – 203, some enter at step 5 or 50.
Because of the aforementioned issue, service-oriented organizations can be quite challenging to move to LEAN organizations, though it is achievable! In these instances the workflow isn’t defined and static steps, it’s fluid. Not only are you evaluating the efficiency of each step, but twisting that workflow this way and that to run scenarios and personas against different entry and exit points in the workflow.
Yes, even changes in management contributes to the making of a LEAN organization! Should a COO be involved in approving messaging on a marketing flyer? If it’s an organization of 10, perhaps, but once you introduce layers, creating a larger organization of talented people, it no longer makes sense to pull strategic leadership into weeds of marketing. Much of the evaluation of management is evaluating the areas of oversight and level of involvement (distraction) they are required to engage in the details of operation.
Becoming a LEAN organization promises to bring a level of order and efficiency to an organization, sort of the utopian dream you started with in the garage or your mom’s basement, but may have lost through the years or as head count increased. The best piece of advice I can leave you with is to find a partner who can help you sort through details, and lacks the emotional bond to the 57-step process in order to look at the steps and goals objectively. If you’re interested in learning how I can help your business become more efficient, save money, and decrease waste, please call or click. Oh, and happy waste-walking!
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