I’ve written extensively on lean manufacturing and the value that it brings to the party. If you’re in manufacturing I hope that you have at least thought about using some lean principles in your company. If you’re not, you might wake up soon and find that your competitors have left you behind.
What if you’re not a manufacturing company? Are there lean principles you could use to help make your company better? My answer is a resounding yes, and if you do you’ll get a big leg up on your competition.
Start with measuring key items in your company.
All companies have things that they can measure. In my own instance I can measure how long it takes to do a financial plan. I can measure how long it takes to turn around a report to my clients. I can measure results I have from marketing campaigns.
All of these measurements will tell me whether I’m making progress with my company. I can even build statistical control charts around these items. Once I know that I’m getting expected results, I can then start thinking about what I can do to make it better.
Stop blaming people.
One of the problems that many companies have is that we blame people when things go wrong. W. Edwards Deming said that it’s rarely the people. I agree with him. I find that people aren’t usually the problem, but the systems we use are.
Do you have checklists in place for your people to follow? Do you wonder why your service is great one day and not so much the next? If you had checklists, I bet your service would become world class and consistent. I often wonder why we make it so hard for our people to do great work.
Have systems in place.
Systems are the breakfast of champions and are the core of a successful lean operation. Manufacturing companies are not the only ones that have repeatable operations. All businesses that I’ve run across have them. If you’re systematizing what you’re doing you’ll start finding ways of making those operations more quick and accurate.
If you find that you’re often doing one off activities you might want to ask yourself whether it would make sense to find a way to deliver a more uniform level of service to your customers. Look for what all of your customers need and design systems to make delivering that part of your service package in a standardized manner. Both your customers and employees will like knowing what to do and what to expect.
Ask why five times.
Once you start understanding what your systems are ask why you do things the way you do them. Don’t just ask this question once, ask it five times. At Toyota they call this the five why’s. It helps you dive down and understand what the core reason is for providing service the way you do.
Build a map for improvement.
Once you understand what it is that you do and why you do it, it’s time to build a map for improvement. This is where you get to fail fast and fail cheaply by experimenting, experimenting, and experimenting some more. The more you do this, the better your service will get.
Try one small experiment at a time. If it works, keep the change. If it doesn’t, then throw it away quickly and move on. You’re not trying to change the world at once, you only want to take small steps and watch them build and get extraordinary long-term results.
Measure your results.
The only way you’re going to know whether what you do works is by measuring your results. Graph what you do. If you can continue to re-think what it is you do and how you do it, you can measure your results.
Sometimes you’ll be amazed at what you see. For me, it was moving our financial planning process from a month and a half to four hours. In my vending business it was reducing our training time from six weeks to two. Both changes came from using lean principles in our company.
Think about lean and how you can apply it to what you do. You might be amazed at the outcome you get.
We’ve put together a special report on four tiered budgeting. This is a simplified way of taking a look at what you want to accomplish in your company. We came up with this process as a result of thinking about what we needed for planning and getting rid of everything else. Strategic plans can be short and effective. Click on the button below to learn how.