Lean Methodology: Optimising Business Processes

5 Min Read
Lean Methodology: Optimising Business Processes

Lean Methodology what is it?

Like a quality cut of meat, your organisation too can be lean.   

Meat is considered lean when it has very little or no superfluous fat. Essentially, a lean organisation is the same – however swap the fat with wasteful processes. 

Essentially, you are stripping back the wasteful aspects of your business, and either fine-tuning existing processes or replacing them entirely. You do this by recognising the value of your customers and by paying close attention to their feedback. 

Therefore, the three key points of the lean philosophy are about increasing customer value, reducing waste (Muda) and optimising business processes.  

Although the foundations of lean thinking can be dated way back to 15th century Venice, the lean we know today originated in Japan in the mid-20th century – first introduced by the car manufacturers Toyota. There have since been various adaptions in western countries, whereby lean is defined by a set of tools and techniques, however, the original approach focused on implementing organisation-wide culture change. 

Toyota set out to enhance customer experience through incorporating lean thinking into the company mindset – with highly successful results. It is no wonder that many other companies have since decided to adopt the lean methodology. Big brands like Nike, John Deere and Intel are just some examples.

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What Are the Benefits of Lean Methodology?

There are several ways Lean can help the success of your business. We would imagine that some of these may sound quite appealing to you!  These include:

  • Minimisation of errors or defects in the work process
  • Improvement of the quality and flow in work processes 
  • Cost reduction
  • Lead time reduction
  • Improvement of employee morale
  • Simplification of complex processes

Implementing Lean Methodology

Before we tell you the 5 principles of lean, it is important to remember that developing and/or changing an organisational mindset is a difficult task. Change can be a hard subject to breach, and may not always be welcomed with open arms! 

However, there are ways of mitigating any resistance you may find yourself up against:

Set your goal

It is vital to know what you would like to gain from the suggested changes. If you can answer the question ‘why’ to your colleagues, it will become much easier to explain your reasoning for the changes to come. 

Communication is key

Keeping everyone in the loop is the best way to help employees feel their needs are being met, and their voices are being heard. The word should naturally flow through management levels, and if not, there should be a structured process in place. Remember for some, change can be a hard pill to swallow, so be thoughtful in how you communicate. 

Appoint a project leader

Like an orchestra would struggle to stay in tune without a conductor, every working project needs a leader to keep everyone on the right track. Make sure this is someone confident in coordinating others, and that they have the support from above to make the changes.  

Refrain from having a team of managers

The project management team should be made up of the people that best know the processes being changed. Although relevant managers are welcome, make sure that you don’t end up with this being yet another management project. This will help to increase feelings of autonomy, which is repeatedly shown to have positive impacts on mental health and wellbeing.  

The 5 lean principles

Once you and your team are ready – you can introduce the 5 key lean principles. 

These are:

Define Value

This first step is achieved by taking the time to understand what value your product or service brings to your target customer – essentially what they are willing to pay for it.  What does your customer want or need? Sometimes this isn’t all straight-sailing as customers don’t always know. However, there are simple research methods that you can try in order to help you better understand, such as interviews, web analytics and surveys. 

Why? – if you don’t know your customer, then how will you market effectively? With the world moving at such a rapid place, this is simply not a one-time research task either, you must check in with them regularly!

Value stream mapping

Now it’s time to make sure that the activities and processes conducted by your business are adding value to the figure you just worked out. Broken down into two categories: 1) non-value-added but necessary and 2) non-value and unnecessary. Any that fall into the latter, must go!

Be careful, there will be some processes that don’t add value, and you may be tempted to see if you can do without – but don’t be too hasty! For example, if you own a software company, but don’t want to pay to have your software tested – you may have some unhappy customers with a product that doesn’t work!  

The most common waste found in business – inventory, motion, transportation, waiting, defects, overproduction and over-processing. 

Create flow

Now it’s time to make sure that your new processes run smoothly and without delay. There are a number of strategies that you can implement that can help you achieve this – step by step guides, a reconfiguration of the production stages, employee multi-skill and flexible training, levelling out the workload and creating cross-functional departments. 

Whatever you decide – keep in mind the employees who will be most affected by the changes. 

Establish Pull

When you establish a pull system in your organisation, you are essentially placing tasks in a priority queue. Tasks will only be assigned to workers should there be a high demand or urgent need for them. 

For example, the inventory is considered one of the biggest time wasters in business production steps. Having stacks of unnecessary items wastes space, and keeping on top of it all can take up hours of an employee’s time. However, a just-in-time delivery method (a pull-based system) is a great method where only the most requisite stock materials and information are kept. This means that products are created at the time and in the quantity when they are needed.

There are two main principles for this step: reduction in the production cycle time whilst still achieving a high-quality and effective result.  

Continuous Growth and Improvement

This is the step where the real organisational change occurs and is considered the most important step of them all. With all of the above points coming together, the lean methodology is now starting to take its form in the organisation-wide culture. The overlying concept is that each individual strives for perfection within the organisation, and therefore will deliver your product or service effectively and in tune with the customer’s wishes.  

What are you waiting for – it’s time to make your company lean!

Whilst implementing lean may be costly – especially if your company is required to keep up with current technology or software – the potential and prospects it can bring to your business are exceptional. There’s a reason big brands have adopted such a method – it works! 

Checkify has worked with all kinds of businesses and organisations on methods of continuous improvement with excellent results. Whether you are a commercial business, in hospitality or in healthcare, we can help you identify the processes which may be doing more harm than good. We will explore all the continuous improvement options available to you, such as lean, Hoshin Kanri, Poka Yoke,   PDCA (Plan Do Act Check) or Six-Sigma, and help you to decide which is the best solution for your needs.

Optimising Business Processes

Incorporate lean thinking into the company mindset – with highly successful results.

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