Lean process improvement is currently being viewed as the new way to approaching speed, or even simplifying and optimizing business processes to enhance productivity. The concept applies to every industry, and is viewed as a crucial strategy to achieving success in the workplace.
So what exactly is lean process improvement, and how does it affect businesses?
First though, lean thinking is something that should exist in the mindset. It’s a way in which you can choose to view the world. So to say lean, we would mean to focus, avoid waste and improve customer value. Lean encourages smooth process flow, which means the person involved should only perform activities that add value to the customer. They should avoid investing time on activities that don’t add any form of value to the ultimate goal of the business.
Adding value would also mean you’re generating revenue. So if this is the opposite, i.e. the activity is not bringing in any revenue, then it must certainly add to the cost of business operations.
However, for this process to be fully effective, there has to be steps that must be followed. These steps are crucial as far as business goals are concerned.
The Complete Lean Process Improvement Guide
(a) Assessing the Current State of things
To start with this process, you must first evaluate the current state of things or processes. The purpose of this evaluation is to collect actual process data. But as you gather this crucial data, you must take note of the information and material flow of the process. Finally, you must review your data to ensure that all necessary information has been collected.
(b) Determine the State of Workflow in the Future
Workflow in a particular setting is dependent on the product and process layout. Therefore, most organizations view this step as the best place to start from. Once the workflow has been streamlined, the rest will automatically follow suit.
So to begin with, you will have to identify the current arrangement or layout of the factory or office involved. However, in all this, you should identify where work cells will apply best and where they won’t apply in the relevant setting. For instance, you might want to identify a new location for new office furniture, or simply relocate the existing ones to a new location if you think it will streamline workflow processes in the office.
However, there’s a challenge in some areas, especially in service processes. The reason being; office processes tend to be invisible, so creating an effective workflow automatically becomes a challenge here. But the good thing is that there’s a way you can make these processes visible, thus intelligently adapting lean process improvement on every facet of the business that needs transformation. You want to create a certain type of workflow.
(c) Determining the Future state of the Organizational Structure
Infrastructure could be considered a sustaining element in an organization setting. Even though infrastructure may mean nothing to your customers, it will add some value to your processes.
When we talk of infrastructure, we refer to things such as training, scheduling, organization structure, utility systems, quality methods, investment polices and so forth. But you realize that a good part of these elements are ingrained in attitude, habits or culture.
(d) Identifying Priorities
The next step often involves identifying priorities and precedents in a business setting. You need precedence, which requires the use of principles to make other principles practical and successful. This is very critical especially when dealing with work cells. Work cells are better handled in small lots instead.
Your priorities may depend on precedences, though they may also depend on your return on investments. You must give priorities to lean improvement, products, or areas that promise huge returns. This will lead to the entire process financing itself.
You could also utilize focused-improvement techniques (such as kaizen events) to get the benefit of instant payback from your investments. Therefore, the differences between companies that apply lean processes and those that don’t apply it can be seen in the quality, operation cost, delivery and consequently profits.
The low-hanging fruit principle also has a way of affecting how you set your priorities. You see, it’s possible that you could have opted for one lean improvement process as opposed to the other — and there are many reasons for making such choices. If you think taking a path as opposed to the other one would be profitable, then it’s worth setting your priorities in line with that path you’ve chosen.
(e) Crafting Your Road-map
You now have a broad overview of how things are moving. You have a vision for the future, and you want to base your decisions on precedences and priorities. Now you can begin to draw your next course of action.
The following is a list containing 8 different steps for implementing and using sustainable lean improvement processes:
- You have to commit to the processes
- Identify critical processes
- Make your staff aware of the concept (lean process) by educating them on the same
- Map the current process and how it’s affecting your business
- Identify the metrics that will suit your organization’s needs and goals
- Map the ideal future state of affairs
- Develop a project plan that will help you achieve the ideal future state
- Implement your plans
Take Note: Your Business is Unique
In the past, many businesses have tried copying what worked for others, thinking it would work for them too. But in all this, it’s important that you realize the fact that your business is unique, and has a set of problems and constraints that may be different from those of others.
This calls for custom lean improvement processes — or strategies that are specifically designed to deal with your unique challenges at work.
In your path to succeed with lean, you will encounter mistakes along the way. But the most important thing would be to learn from them. This is a journey of transformation as opposed to a destination already arrived at. This means you must not stop collecting lessons along the way, as they will help you build a better business environment in the future. That’s what lean process improvement is all about.