You may have heard of Lean ideology or Lean Six Sigma. Or perhaps you’ve heard of how Lean has helped large organizations such as Toyota or GE reduce costs, increase productivity, standardize processes, and reduce wastes. But more often than not, I see organizations in a corporate setting write off Lean as they don’t feel it’s relevant to them. Many believe in order to adopt Lean principles you must have a manufacturing component to your organization but this is certainly not the case. Though Lean does make more sense in manufacturing, the concepts can be applied to transactional settings. In fact, my experiences with deploying Lean in corporate settings has yielded in larger cost savings than in manufacturing environments. The bottom line is, business are successful when they continually refine their processes and have the technology to facilitate continuous improvement of their processes regardless of the nature of their business. Lean strategies can help any company save time and money, you just have to get creative in applying the methodology. The main principals of Lean include eliminating waste (muda), driving consistency and value, reducing rework/defects, increasing productivity, cultivating a culture of continuous improvement, and respecting your workforce to name a few. All of these philosophies can be adapted to a corporate setting and transactional processes. Let’s take a closer look at a few examples.
This philosophy is easily understood in a manufacturing setting as a buildup of waste in any process will quickly impact cycle times and lead to significant costs. Excessive waste can stop a production line or cause defects which wreak havoc in a manufacturing setting. But this philosophy can also be appliedin a corporate setting. All organizations can take a closer look at their processes to identify where they may be wasting time and resources. Try collaborating with your team and create a process flow map and identify bottlenecks and non-value added steps. Identify the root causes for the “wastes” and brainstorm ideas to eliminate the waste thus increasing efficiency and reducing cycle times. Lean ideology states that a majority of waste is likely to occur during transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over processing and defects. How can these concepts be applied in a corporate environment? Maybe you have too many employees touching a process? Maybe you have identified a portion of or an entire process that can be automated through technology? Perhaps through mapping out a process you’ve noticed you have too many employees underutilized and can outsource parts of your workforce? Or perhaps your resources are over utilized and you need to augment your staff to improve throughput. I believe one of the most common realizations an organization has when undergoing this exercise is the amount of variation a single process has. Just streamlining and documenting processes while reducing waste can easily reduce your cycle times by 30%-40%.
Cultivate a Continuous Improvement Culture
This is a no brainer in my opinion. Process improvement isn’t something an organization undergoes every 3 to 5 years. Implementing a continuous culture will be imperative to empower an organization’s staff to proactively manage roadblocks and bottlenecks. By instilling a culture of Continuous Improvement (CI), you can foster an environment of change leaders that are committed to continuously enhancing their roles, processes, departments, and so forth. Without harnessing the right culture, you will never be able to fix root causes and will find yourself talking about the same problems 3, 5, 10 years later. Organizations can begin to create a CI centric environment by hiring employees that come from a CI background and or implementing simple Lean training for its staff. Consider implementing Lunch & Learn/Brown Bag Sessions to train your staff on basic Lean principles such as 5 S (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) and the DMAIC (Define Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) model to begin shifting their mindset to thinking Lean. If your organization can make the business case, consider leveraging learning platforms such as Moresteam.com or contracting with a Lean Coach to deploy principles throughout the enterprise. If you feel that going the training route is too soon for you, consider starting a monthly meeting where your employees can discuss ideas to improve processes and get a plan together to get things in motion.
Sub-standard work is unacceptable in any business environment. Lean philosophy encourages a system of checks and balances to catch and correct errors upstream in order to decrease the number defected output. This simple principle can be deployed in a transactional setting easily. For example, you can create training documentation such as step by step standard operating procedures to ensure your staff is well versed on their roles and processes. When employees understand how a processes should flow, they can concentrate on perfecting their performance and catching errors rather than figuring out how to get the process done. Another way this principle can be deployed is by creating accurate, value added approval chains prior to the release of a deliverable to ensure the right checks have been made prior to release. Another strategy could be to configure your technology to ensure value fields are matched accurately to combat human error.