Lean Management: Putting Theory Into Practice

When it comes to business growth and production, many companies or teams can be bogged down by expansion plans that end up doing more harm than good. Managing this evolution in a clear and streamlined manner is best; and embracing the principles of lean management can help teams transition seamlessly. Of course, embracing them is only step one. Implementing them is where the real challenge lies. 

Here is some practical advice on how to understand the principles of lean management as actions which can be executed within your organization.

Focus on Value for the Customer

Theory

From the get-go, the underlying philosophy of lean management is building your team’s processes based on the value from the customer’s perspective. Focus on what the customer wants, and align the processes to deliver that. This demand helps determine the value of a business’ product or service, and in turn, allows the producer to gauge what the target-price should be. Once this target-price is established, you can help cut out wastage and inefficiencies that may unnecessarily push up costs and influence the price. This outward-in approach is an important perspective for businesses to calculate their value-proposition. 

Practice

Creating a value stream map of your product is an excellent way to focus on value for the customer. Use a flowchart to visualize the work you have in your process, identify wastages and bottlenecks in the production process, and see where more resources are needed, or if excess processes need to be cut. Identifying exactly what customers need first will help make it possible to focus all the efforts on the things customers are actually interested in. Creating a value stream map will almost always reveal the waste of a product’s lifecycle to the customer. Here’s an example made in MindMeister, with the green indicating value-adding steps and red representing non-value-adding steps, which can potentially be reduced:

Optimize Your Workflow

Theory

While it’s important to work out what your product value is, how to achieve that is just as important, if not more. This production or service delivery process is known as a business’ flow, and a Lean Management philosophy will try and optimize this by implementing a one-piece flow ethos. Focusing on perfecting one stage or phase of production at a time will help reduce errors, work-in-progress time, and streamline the entire process. Furthermore, quality and flexibility will increase as a result, allowing companies to be more specialized, agile, and handle unforeseen circumstances that may occur.

Practice

Utilizing effective tools, such as MeisterTask, helps you create flexible project boards adapt to your workflow and make sure your team is on the same page. This can allow your employees and managers to collaborate and coordinate on one synchronized platform. A project management tool like MeisterTask will provide a communication and information channel to help form a clear understanding of what each member needs to achieve, and ensure that everyone is working in the same ‘format’ or process. This helps avoid miscommunications or misunderstandings that tend to occur during workflow changes.

Base Your Production on Pull, Not Forecasts

Theory

While most traditional businesses generate work-flow or products based on schedules and forecasts, a lean philosophy will base production on ‘pull’, i.e. actual demand. Only when customers order products will they be manufactured and delivered. To do this, companies need to have short design times, quick communication, optimization of their production, elimination of wastage, and have incredibly efficient delivery functions. The goal is to achieve continuous flow based on orders, which, while tricky, can deliver a clinical and cost-efficient system.

Practice

Consult with your employees – a focus on pull (demand-based production) rather than building up stock will shift your business’ processes quite drastically, and everyone from management to the end of the production or delivery line need to be aware of this shift and be on the same page. So, it’s important to communicate with those who it can affect most. Gather ideas, explain goals, and provide these employees with contact information so that they can provide feedback and ask questions when necessary.

Reduce Errors

Theory

Aiming for perfection can be difficult in a work environment, but it can be achieved with simple communication and coordination with all parts of a workflow. Lean Management aims for continuous improvements that address root causes, while also evolving and empowering employees. Reducing effort and confusion in the design, production, and delivery process will reduce mistakes or the chance thereof. Errors or mistakes from previous steps in the production line will not be passed onto the next stage in a lean environment, even if it comes at the cost of time and improving. Identifying these issues and why the error happened is key to building mistake-proof processes and ensuring a lean system of work.

Practice

Constantly review your processes in order to continue reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes. Of course, it comes with some self-critiquing and elimination of errors, but it can be an incredibly cost-efficient way to run a business. And to prevent disagreements and avoid friction, a comprehensive feedback process needs to be put in place too. The customization elements and simplicity of a work-flow tool like MeisterTask will help your team function together and identify what they’re working on. The ability to draw insights in the form of statistics and reports will be invaluable for operation managers looking to identify problems and see metrics on what is working and what isn’t.

Once you have optimized your business, return to Step 1. Perfection is the complete elimination of waste so that all activities create maximum value for the customer, because when it comes to perfecting the lean management strategy, there is no end