What Workplace Decision-Makers Can Learn From Lean Manufacturing Techniques
You might have heard about lean manufacturing techniques and how they’ve helped companies such as Toyota streamline their processes, reduce waste, minimize costs and increase productivity. But if you’re a manager in an enterprise-level or smaller office environment, you might not think that these concepts are relevant to you.
In fact, a number of lean manufacturing strategies could help your company save money and time. After all, the main principles of lean manufacturing include eliminating waste, implementing a continuous improvement culture, respecting your human workforce, mistake-proofing your work, maintaining a level production rate and instituting “just-in-time” (JIT) production.
All of these things can easily be adapted to the workflow and office culture of your business in order to create greater efficiencies and increase the quality of your work.
Here are some ideas for how these lean manufacturing techniques can be adapted to your business:
1. Eliminate waste.
Reducing waste is crucial for large manufacturers because, given the scale of their work, a small amount of waste in a single process can lead to significant costs. But just because you’re not running a production line that puts out thousands of cars a day doesn’t mean that waste isn’t a problem.
All companies should look closely at all of their processes to see where they’re wasting time and resources. Lean manufacturing principles dictate that waste is most likely to occur via transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, overproduction and defects.
How does that translate into an office environment?
Maybe you have too many employees who don’t have enough to do and you’d be better off outsourcing parts of your workforce and bringing on freelancers for certain tasks or during busy periods. Perhaps you print everything out and store the files when it would be more economical to invest in a multifunctional printer and copier that can scan your documents, route them, or archive them electronically in conjunction with your workflow management software and document management system.
Look into how to reduce waste in all your processes and then document and share your best practices for company-wide collaboration with this business- and earth-friendly approach.
2. Create a continuous improvement culture.
Process and workflow improvement aren’t just things that you do every five years when it’s time to create your next strategic plan. Lean manufacturing principles encourage companies to continually look at their processes and work on ways to improve them.
That might mean researching, purchasing and implementing new technological systems to help automate or facilitate your workflow through business process improvement. Or it could mean getting creative about how to simplify hiring and onboarding processes to minimize disruption and cut training times.
A continuous improvement culture focuses on making incremental changes that will help your business in the long term. Businesses don’t always make time for this type of ground-level innovation, but they should.
Not sure how to put this into practice? One easy way to start is to set up a monthly meeting where your employees can submit ideas for improving processes and then decide which suggestions to focus on during that month or quarter.
3. Respect your human workforce.
Companies are only as successful as the people who work for them.
Respecting your employees is a crucial aspect of lean manufacturing. You can actively demonstrate respect for your staff in many ways. Make sure they are not overworked, challenge them without demanding too much, help them understand company goals and activities (and how those align with their individual goals) and find ways to keep them satisfied with their jobs. All of that will cut down on errors and turnover.
Turnover is costlier than most employers realize. An Employee Benefit News study shows that employee turnover costs employers an average of $15,000 per employee or 33 percent of his or her annual salary. The good news, however, is that according to the study 75 percent of turnover is avoidable.
Your workforce consists of individuals. If you engage them effectively and give them a sense of ownership over their work, you’ll be able to depend on consistent performance and higher quality output.
All business decisions should be made keeping their impact on employees in mind.
4. Mistake-proof your work.
The last thing you want to do is produce sub-standard work.
Lean manufacturing encourages the creation of systems to ensure that work is mistake-proof. You can implement this modus operandi in your company by creating checks and balances that will catch and correct mistakes early.
That might involve having outlines sent to a manager before a full marketing plan is created. Or it might include having a colleague check the numbers on an accounting spreadsheet before it goes to a client.
To begin, identify where your company is prone to make mistakes and engineer solutions that will catch them before they become too costly.
Having the right in-house technology can also help reduce errors. For example, a good multi-functional printer, like one of those that Kyocera offers, can be set up to perform tasks such as order scanning and proper routing using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, reducing human error.
5. Implement JIT production.
When it comes to manufacturing, ensuring that you don’t produce products too early and carry high inventory costs is one important way to decrease overhead and improve cash flow.
JIT production emphasizes producing what you need quickly and efficiently, according to demand. This is a particularly useful principle in industries where demand is predictable and you can manage your workflow over the year.
There are lots of ways this might work in a small business or office environment. One way might involve having a trained team of freelancers who are available to help you when you need to produce something, or waiting to finish production on a product or report until it is needed—but with pre-populated templates ready to go.
Such moves free up your workforce to do other, more productive work – such as seeking out new business—the rest of the time.
6. Level your production.
While JIT production builds agility for employees and products, lean manufacturers also focus on producing the same number of widgets every day to create a level production schedule that anticipates demand but doesn’t overproduce. Small businesses, however, can struggle with seasonality issues.
One key way to level production is to provide discounts, savings or longer payment terms to those of your clients who order in advance or during your slow season. By reorganizing your company’s seasonal workflow, your employees will always be laboring at a reasonable rate rather than having to cope with extremely busy periods.
This won’t merely ensure that you always have work and money coming in, it will also help reduce stress on employees during busier times, since your work will be better distributed over the course of the year.
Good Business Processes Are An Artform
The most successful businesses continually refine their processes and have the technology to facilitate continuous improvement of their processes. Finding the right business processes will save you money, reduce waste, improve employee satisfaction and distribute work more skillfully over the course of the year. Companies that strike the right balance will maintain that crucial competitive advantage.
Originally published on Forbes Kyocera Brand Voice.