Lean thinking techniques were developed to improve manufacturing processes, but its principles have relevance and benefits for companies in any sector, throughout their business operations. But what is the best way to apply them?
Waste in manufacturing is a tangible thing that you can see left on the factory floor that would have lower value if monetised or thrown away. Inefficiencies can also occur when only a few employees know important details that are required by the many. An inadequate information system, tools and unhelpful communications protocols between teams would be examples of how a knowledge-led company might be creating waste.
The concept of training staff and encouraging them to learn continuously is still something that many companies are yet to commit too. If businesses allow space and time for learning, employees can not only develop themselves, but the benefits for the business are usually far-reaching in terms of scale and diversification.
Make evaluating work to analyse what has worked and what didn’t as part of the process. Allowing staff to provide creative input and giving them the additional skills to understand and take part in each other’s work is never a useless exercise. It will provide positive benefits of faster and better delivery of products and services in the long-term and increase knowledge share within the company.
Build quality in
Anticipating errors before they occur, and eliminating them, is the first step to take when you want to build a system that will support growth in the future. Automate tasks that are standard, typically prone to error and repetitive for staff, will help improve accuracy. This allows employees to concentrate their time and effort on innovative tasks that support business growth, such as, diversification, continuous improvements and upgrade products and services.
Deliver efficiency by managing the flow
Lean thinking is partly a recognition and understanding that focus is everything. So if our environment isn’t conducive to focused-thinking, it slows us down. It’s about keeping capacity at a manageable level, as this will assist everyone in reaching targets in a shorter amount of time.
The way this translates in knowledge work is to be more intentional. Ask teams to keep visualising their flow and let them decide how to manage it. Giving staff control over how they carry out their work, will help optimised processes because they know the job best and may think of ways of carrying out the task that was not thought of before.
Make informed decisions
Planning can be hugely valuable, but where a decision isn’t obvious - defer it. One of the factors to maintaining market relevance is flexibility and agility, and yet so many businesses plan themselves out of these possibilities.
If you save a decision until the last moment, you make that decision based on the most informed, current and comprehensive information available. Not only will this impact on product and service relevance, but it links back to waste, insofar as previous processes may need to be repeated.
Helping staff to reach their potential lasts much longer than the current work cycle. It will not only assist in retention but create a company reputation for quality and support.
Respecting people goes beyond polite and thoughtful interaction, to encompass valuing employees by handing them everything they need to do a good job. Listen to employees, give them autonomy to think about what is in the best interest of the customer - this will add to overall productivity and efficiency.