Lean processes originated in the manufacturing world, but its success there in creating practices that help processes continue to grow and evolve can help out in many different sectors of the workplace. The five steps need to be followed in order, but when done correctly, they can improve efficiency and minimize waste in any business model. The lean thinking guide aims to shift focus from individual machines (or personnel) to a focus on the overall process flow of a system. Changes are to be made only if they improve the overall workflow, and these five concepts should be followed when creating a plan, and when implementing any changes.
The first step of lean thinking involves a determination of what your consumer is looking for. Whether you provide goods or a service, determining what competitors do not offer, can help you find a niche to offer value to your potential customers. In addition to determining what your customers are looking for, you must also determine a fair price so they still view your good or service as valuable. In other words, if you make a minor upgrade to an existing product, no one will buy it if you price it exponentially higher unless that minor upgrade is truly a game-changer.
Map the Value Stream
Once that value is determined, the lean thinking model encourages companies to determine exactly how to get that added value into the hands of a consumer, with the lowest possible costs for your company. Multiple streams should be created and compared, and ultimately, whichever one has the least amount of waste should be the process (or processes) that is used.
Once the value stream has been created, it is time to put it into action and test your theories. All processes in the flow, whether it be mechanical, as the original Lean Thinking plans related to, or relative to a smaller project like cultivating a more positive workplace culture, should be waste-free, or if they do generate waste, it should be less than any similar process would create.
If issues do arise, breaking down larger processes into smaller ones can help identify where the waste is being created. Sometimes, simply reordering the steps of those smaller processes can help them become more streamlined and eliminate some of the waste.
Pull focuses on inventory, or if things are going swimmingly, a lack thereof. Pull-based systems aim to minimize inventory, as inventory can and does wind up being waste sometimes, and waste is what lean thinking aims to eliminate. Both just-in-time manufacturing and on-demand production are thought processes that stem from lean thinking. Of course, the other side of the pull coin is a situation where you wind up with too little to match a given demand.
The ultimate goal of lean thinking and lean manufacturing is to eliminate waste, as previously mentioned in all of the steps above. When managers of the lean thinking processes determine that they have the best possible steps in place to remove waste from a given process, they should look closer and re-evaluate even more. This is a bit easier in 2020, as big data surrounding product processes is more readily available, cheaper to attain, and easier to understand than it has ever been before.
There are plenty of successful businesses who have still yet to find that perfection… because they will never admit something is perfect. There is almost always room for improvement, and as personnel changes occur, and new technologies allow for upgrades, these five steps should be constantly evaluated by those in charge of the lean thinking processes.
Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He is currently writing a book about scaling up business and his experience implementing lean methodology.