5 Ways You Can Bring Lean Management Practices to Your Business

Lean management can be a powerful tool in your playbook. Find out how you can use lean management thinking to improve your business.
February 23, 2018

If you're looking to improve your business by becoming more agile and efficient, you might want to embark on a lean management initiative. 

Lean management principles can be applied to every area of your company, from the boiler room to the boardroom. It is a management philosophy that advocates analyzing all of your processes in order to eliminate or reduce anything you do that doesn't add value to your business, and ultimately, your customer.

Lean management can offer a variety of benefits including:

  • saving time, 
  • eliminating waste, 
  • improving productivity and the quality of products and services,
  • reducing operating costs and downtime and 
  • increased efficiency.

The lean management philosophy and its practices can be useful for businesses of all sizes. But how can small to midsize businesses use the concept of lean management to optimize your operations and increase your productivity? The following tips might be helpful to jump start your lean thinking process.

1. Separate the essential from the non-essential.

You can start by putting yourself in the customer's shoes. What delays, dissatisfaction or inefficiencies have they experienced? Evaluating all of your processes from the customer's perspective may point to the most critical areas where the lean approach can maximize customer value.

Are there any policies, procedures or detailed paperwork that are outdated and no longer essential? Consider examining all ineffective practices that may have developed over time and that are performed day-in and day-out but produce no worthwhile results. Stop watering the weeds.

What shortcuts have people found in their jobs to eliminate unnecessary steps? Find out and encourage sharing. Consider giving a small reward for every shared shortcut that's adopted.

Think about every area that may be a money leak and find ways to plug it. For example, you can eliminate hidden energy wastes.

Lean management initiatives work best when everyone is encouraged to participate. For example, you can empower everyone to walk around and eliminate the dumb things. What are the wasteful activities? Set up a procedure for people to submit ideas for consideration.

Focus on one thing that you're good at that pays dividends for you. Strive to excel in it rather than being a mediocre jack of all trades. There's power in mastery. Streamlining your time and resources to be the best that you can be in your domain can help you stand out above the din of the crowd and may result in greater opportunities.

You can also bring this perspective to your company's social media activities. While having a social media presence is essential, you may not need a presence on every social media platform. Consider conducting a social media audit, and focus on those that are more likely to generate business. You can use the time you save to be more interactive with your audience.

2. Eliminate all waste in every corner of your business.

Do you keep a larger than necessary inventory that ties up capital and takes up valuable space? Consider making inventory management a priority.

Do people waste time because they often have to rework what they've done? You can address this by providing better training or mentoring. 

Another big time waster is poorly-run meetings. Long and often unnecessary meetings can sap energy away from worthwhile activities to help your business grow and thrive. You can help put a stop to this by issuing guidelines for effective meetings. 

One of the big benefits of adopting a lean management philosophy is that it can help you save money. Think about every area that may be a money leak and find ways to plug it. For example, you can eliminate hidden energy wastes. There are small things that you can do such as enabling energy-saving features on computers, and switching off all computers and printers overnight. Leave any chargers plugged in only when charging.

You can also help create order by placing items within reach of people. This can help them do their jobs efficiently, thereby eliminating time wasted looking for things or moving from one area to another unnecessarily. Consider labeling items or color coding to make it easier to locate them.

With that in mind, consider using the concept of management by sight. Whether you run a shop, a service center or a warehouse, you can set everything on the shop floor in such a way that all you need is a visual scan to evaluate that everything is in the most efficient order. The more you do this, the easier it will be to quickly identify where there could be a problem.

3. Automate what you can to save time and unnecessary effort.

There's an app for almost anything today. To automate workflow and save time, check out apps such as Zapier, Flow or Robotask, to name a few.

Do you write a lot of proposals? You can use specialized proposal writing software to help you streamline the process, such as Panda Doc, Better Proposals or Bidsketch.

You can also use digital solutions to help you stay organized and keep track of important matters. There are many choices, such as Trello, Pocket or MailMe. Find one that can make your life easier so that you can focus on what matters.

4. Clean up your act.

Cleanliness and order are one of the tenets of the lean management approach. Consider eliminating clutter in every corner of your shop or office. Discard what's rarely used or no longer usable. Have these items been accumulating over time and have become part of the furniture? Fix what's broken or decide to let it go.

If you provide mobile workstations where desks are shared by a mobile team, encourage people to leave the desk clean and uncluttered with personal items. Coming to an unclean and messy desk can affect some employees' morale and lower productivity. Workplace cleanliness is a part of the lean management philosophy.

Cleaning up applies not only to your physical surroundings but also to your virtual environment. I recently received an email from a list I had subscribed to that said, "We noticed that you haven't opened the last few emails we sent you. Do you still want to remain subscribed?" If you do this, you may lose some subscribers, but at least most of the ones who remain are likely interested in your company. Consider doing periodic housekeeping of your email lists.

Try cleaning your digital space as well. Delete programs or apps you no longer use. What about your desktop? Is it littered with icons? Have you lost count of files you have placed there? If so, it may be a good time to organize everything into well-labeled folders and move them out of the desktop.

Consider, as well, using organizational or sectioned desktop wallpaper. These contain images that are divided into sections or quadrants to make it easy to simplify and organize your desktop items for quick referral. 

5. Standardize and instill self-discipline to maintain the new standards.

Once you have a procedure down pat, try formalizing it by establishing a standard. Having a standardized process can help others, especially newcomers. Consistency can be a time saver and can free up people's time for more valuable work.

Consider periodical health checks of all of your processes to prevent backsliding. This can help you ensure that the new standards are maintained. Then you can update what needs to change with the passage of time.

Involving management at all levels can help make these changes stick. And with the emphasis on minimalism these days, you may find employees who applaud lean management initiatives and are keen to participate. Find out who among your staff are your lean management enthusiasts and appoint them lean leaders to influence and inspire others.

Adopting some of these lean management initiatives can translate into tangible time and cost-saving benefits. But part of its appeal is also the less tangible benefits that may not be readily quantifiable, such as increasing your employees' well-being by improving the quality of life in their work environment. Lean management deserves consideration.

Read more articles on leadership.

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