An approach that's streamlined the manufacturing field offers ideas for managers in every industry.
A sluggish economy calls for efficient thinking. And in recent years, the concept of "lean" operations has grown to meet the need. The idea originated with Toyota's production system, which aimed to streamline manufacturing using continuous improvement. Now, the theory is applied successfully to the management of many processes, whether the end product is widgets or ideas. Lean management involves five basic steps. A lean-thinking manager spends time with each member of her team to work through the process - guiding, rather than dictating, the outcome. A central tenet of lean process is that workers themselves bring their intelligence and experience to the table.
- Identify Value. What value does each team member bring to his or her "clients," whether they are colleagues or external customers? Ask every member of your team individually what they do, and for whom. It's not important at this stage to evaluate or prioritize these tasks, only to identify them.
- Map the Value Stream. Work with each team member to identify the steps required to complete a particular task. Some steps clearly add value. Others may not, but might be necessary as prerequisites or part of the organization's general operation. Still others may neither add value nor be necessary.
- Improve Flow. Now we're getting to the heart of lean thinking. The task is to streamline value-added processes, minimize the impact of essential ones that don't add value and eliminate non-essential steps that don't add value. Be on the lookout for breakdowns, bottlenecks or complaints. Any time a task can't be achieved on the first try, seize the opportunity to learn and improve. Instill in each team member the ability to recognize these problems as they occur.
- Allow Customer Pull. In the manufacturing model, the "customer" is clearly defined, but remember that in the management sphere, a customer can be a colleague as well. This is an opportunity for all team members to work on relationships within and beyond your team, and to look at more complex processes that involve groups of people. Are downstream colleagues getting frustrated by what they see as late, incorrect or sub-par work?
- Work Toward Perfection. Lean management is a constant cycle of identifying inefficiencies and finding ways to weed them out. For this reason, lean thinking requires a fundamental commitment to continuous improvement from everyone in the organization. That means empowering the whole staff, from the CEO to the receptionist, to go beyond "getting things done" to focus on the value they offer and, when necessary, to change the way they do business.
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