Lean manufacturing. Lean management. Lean process.
Businesses large and small are fascinated by all things lean, and for good reasons. Gone are the days of bloated budgets and heavily padded layers of management. With expenses and costs soaring, we're all trying to do more with less, which makes the allure of lean management that much stronger.
But before I share some of the ways lean management can benefit your business, let's make sure we're speaking the same language.
You can find boatloads of definitions for lean management, all with different shades of meaning, but my working definition is pretty simple. Lean management is constantly improving your workflow with the goals of eliminating inefficiencies and creating greater value for customers.
What Can Lean Management Do for Your Business?
Though running your company leaner can help you cut costs, that's not its only benefit. Focusing on delivering more to your customers can help you eliminate distractions—things you'd focused on previously that don't actually matter to your customers at the end of the day.
Getting rid of those distractions can strengthen your brand. When your primary focus is your customer's needs, rather than your own self-interest, you may discover your business benefits as well. Lean management can help you become both better and more profitable.
And when you look at your company with a critical eye—that is, looking for ways to streamline workflow—you may discover a host of ways to maximize efficiency. You can find ways to banish idleness: of employees, of equipment and of inventory.
Doing this may help you see how every piece can work together in harmony. That understanding can lead toward decisions that deliver high-quality products or services to clients.
How Do I Begin Implementing Lean Management?
So you've decided you're going to give lean management a shot. You understand the benefits, and you want to see it work in your own company. But how do you do it? Where should you start? What should you focus on?
Any time I've implemented a new strategy in one of my companies, I've found the greatest success when I've gotten buy in from my entire staff. If you rally the troops and help your employees see lean management as a great initiative in terms of the company's big picture, you may be more likely to actually get it off the ground.
One thing I think is important about authentic lean management is the value it places on the people who actually do the work. Paying an outside consultant to provide you with a lean management road map just doesn't make sense to me. I believe genuinely streamlining your company should begin in house.
Working with the people on the front lines can give you much more focused and practical insight. (And as an added bonus, you won't have employees shaking in their boots, afraid some consultant is going to “streamline" them out of a job.)
In addition to getting my team on my side, I've been able to successfully execute lean management by emphasizing the process itself. Lean management is never actually complete, but if you're constantly refining and striving to do better, you need a process to evaluate your success.
Establishing metrics you and your team will use to evaluate progress can help you stay focused and on track. Simply deciding to streamline without establishing the parameters by which you'll determine success or failure is likely to be unproductive. Evaluating progress should be an integral part of lean management.
Some of you may roll your eyes and think, It's not that simple to resolve bottlenecks and have every employee engaged all the time.
I get it.
But when you genuinely embrace the lean management philosophy, you can find insights that help you work through the impediments to a streamlined workflow.
For example, lean management encourages you to look to your staff for solutions. Work that doesn't add value to customers is less valuable than work that does add value. The first step toward streamlining may be as simple as asking your staff about tasks they believe are less important. What should your company do more of? Less of?
In lean management, you don't write reports to write reports. You don't fill out forms to fill out forms. But you do work together, every member of the team adding value and moving work along.
Since people are imperfect and life throws us curve balls, no company can ever be perfectly lean, with not a penny or minute wasted—but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try! Lean management is simply one of many ways to approach running your business. And if you're intrigued at the possibility of boosting efficiency and delivering valuable services and products to your customers, it may be worth exploring.
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