Lean Manufacturing refers to the process of identifying aspects that do not add value to your operation and removing them. These factors that do not add value are known in the world of lean manufacturing as “waste”. There are different types of waste and the removal of this waste is what has made lean manufacturing such a popular strategy in large companies like Toyota, Motorola, Ford and others.
Can lean manufacturing be used in small businesses? Absolutely. In an increasingly competitive environment, lean manufacturing can give small companies an edge when it comes to competing by helping them improve productivity and greatly reduce costs. Here in David Kiger’s Blog, we have talked about some of the basis of the methodology before to help you get familiar with how these concepts work, so today we want to take a different approach and dwell deeper on some tips and general rules you can easily start applying today, in order to make your business leaner, no matter the size of your company.
Think about continuous improvement
You don’t have to be a large company that is able to train their entire workforce in the fundamentals of Kaizen to take advantage of a continuous improvement in your organization. Making improvement is something that affects small companies even more so since minimal gradual changes have a stronger impact on a significantly reduced environment. Depending on what your company does, you can make improvement in areas of customer service, production, assembly or accounting.
Identify and take care of waste
Sometimes identifying waste can be even harder than taking care of it, and that happens because in most cases is that the inquiry is made by those in charge of the process, something that makes it difficult to be unbiased about the assessment. Waste comes in many shapes and forms like for example overstocking, defects in manufacturing, time wasted in waiting or simply with processes that are not as efficient as they should be.
Processes should be well documented
Small business owners have a tendency to be so ingrained into their own organizational processes that they are satisfied with keeping those processes inside their heads because most of the time they are the ones doing them. The problem comes when some of those tasks aren’t done everyday and each time they have to do them, they must remember and research once again how to do it. Standardizing and documenting are the best way to be able to do the task right every time and to offload it to someone else when it comes time to do so.
People sometimes see outsourcing as evil or as a practice that only applies to giant companies with a lot of resources. The truth is that small companies can greatly benefit from offloading some work that is not part of the area of expertise to other companies and same a lot of time this way. Is best to use up your resources and energy in the areas you consider your company’s specialty and that set you apart from the rest because only you can do.
Take advantage of data collection
Tracking your business is the best way to identify the areas that need improvement and to get an objective picture of your organizational dealings. This is difficult sometimes because like we mentioned before, some small companies decide they should be their auditors and judges when it comes to trying to find which areas and processes aren’t working correctly. It is important to allow a new set of eyes to take a look or to at least allow quantifiable data to do the talking.
What does your company define as success? Being able to establish goals will allow you to set parameters against which you can measure the completion of those goals. This will permit for you to clearly define where most time should be spent and doing exactly what in order to drive those numbers up and make adjustments to areas that need improvement.
What is your strategy?
You must decide how you want to compete in the market. If you are doing the same exact things that your competitors are doing, you aren’t really competing, you are setting yourself to becoming just one more alternative to consumers but not giving them a reason to chose you over the others. You must clearly understand what it is about your products and services that really set your company apart and work on those specific areas to become even better at whatever it is that you do.
Understanding and implanting lean skills in your company should be your priority. This can be done in many ways like internal training or even outsourcing some of it to experts that can help you in this area. You could even team up with other companies and share some of the burdens while getting all of your people trained.
Maintaining your system and constantly improving is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. It is easy to see changes at first and be encouraged when the improvement is palpable and easily quantifiable, but when it comes to maintaining the standard many people get relaxed and thus throw it all away. Lean skills have to be maintained and constantly improved upon in order to truly benefit from them.