A Simple Guide to Improving Lean Processes

There are many companies that operate with a mindset of “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.Unfortunately, this type of closed thinking can lead to a lot of waste.

Tasks may be unnecessary to achieve the end goal, processes may be repeated multiple times when one would suffice, employees may waste time with unnecessary responsibilities, and materials may be wasted during manufacturing.

When this happens within an organization, employee satisfaction decreases therefore turnover increases, quality suffers therefore customer satisfaction and retention decreases, and a single glance at the books will likely indicate that the business loses money.

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You might think that this type of operational inefficiency only occurs in large companies and organizations, however, it is just as prevalent in small to medium sized businesses and can be observed in all departments.

Efficiency is the name of the game for successful businesses, and you’re about to learn one of the best ways to turn your business into a lean, nasty, and lucrative machine.

Lean process improvement

What is Lean Process Improvement?

Lean process improvement is a concept originally developed by Toyota to reduce the time it takes between receiving an order and delivering it. While improving lean processes is often discussed in a production environment, the concept can be applied to services, healthcare, technology, and even government.

Take the example of a marketing department where several people work on the same project but do not communicate. Rather than each managing a specific aspect of the campaign, several people tackle the same task while other activities are unmanaged.

This is not a traditional production environment, however, the team could benefit from creating an easy-to-follow process that examines the desired end product and finds the easiest path to get there.

The idea behind this way of thinking is that when you look at the big picture, you can find ways to eliminate waste, be it financial, physical, employee time or energy that could be spent. elsewhere. This concept can take some time to implement, and that’s okay. It’s not meant to be a short-term fix, but rather a change in the overall mindset and culture of a business.

What are the benefits of improving Lean processes?

Companies that integrate Lean process improvement see a variety of benefits from this change. These include:

  • Less waste
  • Less inventory
  • Increased productivity
  • Best quality
  • More satisfied customers
  • Less costs
  • More benefits

It makes perfect sense that when you remove redundancy, streamline processes, and create less waste, your bottom line increases. When your customers receive their product faster and with less hassle, you’ll have happier customers who come back and recommend you to others. With more customers, your bottom line increases again.

If you would like to see this type of improvement in your organization, read on to learn the steps to improve Lean processes.

How do I integrate Lean process improvement into my business?

You guessed it… there is a process of improving lean processes. There are actually a series of nine steps you will need to take to create this level of efficiency in your organization. Let’s take a closer look at the steps for improving Lean processes.

lean process improvement steps

1. Review the process you want to improve.

This step is essential because if you don’t know what to work on, you won’t know where to focus your efforts. To do this, you need to talk to frontline employees.

The biggest mistake businesses make during this process is implementing changes without ever talking to the people who are doing the work day in and day out. Interview your frontline workers and ask them what goes wrong in their daily routine.

2. Identify the improvements to be made.

Once you’ve identified what needs to be fixed, it’s time to get your team involved again. Chances are they already know how to fix the problem and just haven’t been able to implement it due to a “This is how we are.” -have-always-done ”.

3. Implement the suggested changes.

How will you put the changes into action? Create a plan for everyone involved to understand and buy into the process. This is the best way to ensure success throughout the organization.

4. Monitor the impact of the changes on your efficiency.

While it would be great if your first run attempt was successful, the reality is that once the process is field tested, it will need to be refined further. The only way to do this is through constant monitoring and reassessment. When new problems appear, you can resolve them and make the necessary changes.

5. Identify activities that add value.

Throughout these steps, you will evaluate every action and every aspect of your process. During this time, you should evaluate each activity to determine if it is adding value to your process or hindering it. If an activity is found to be unnecessary, it should be deleted and the process tested without it.

6. Limit the risks.

Production and often business in general are inherently risky. This time should be used to identify any activities or risky aspects that are part of the current process and eliminate or simplify these tasks. It can involve automating an activity or simply changing the way it is performed.

7. Standardize the process.

As you create and refine the process, carefully document your progress. This allows the process to be repeated, correctly, by other employees or, depending on the specific process, by other teams or departments in your organization.

8. Ensure compliance.

While improving lean processes should be a company-wide culture change, your industry or governing body may have specific metrics, procedures, and standardized metrics that you need to adhere to. Compliance should not be sacrificed in the name of efficiency.

9. Improve the customer experience.

To determine the success of a lean process improvement plan, marketers view the customer experience as “the moment of truth.” Ultimately, any improvements you make during production or service must have a positive impact on the customer.

Lean process improvement tools

As you embark on this journey, there are several tools available to you. These tools can help you organize your thoughts, identify problems, and implement your plan. Here are some of the tools you can turn to for help.

Like any other tool, the one you choose should be the right one for the job at hand. If you are starting with one and don’t find it meets your needs, consider trying a different one.

  • Why the analysis: While asking “Why?”Over and over, you can identify the root cause of the challenges you are having.
  • Ishikawa diagram: Also known as a “fishbone diagram” or “cause and effect diagram”, it allows you to look at a problem from multiple angles, including measurements, materials, people, methods, machines and the environment.
  • Affinity diagram: It works great in the early stages of implementing Lean, as it can help sort and organize large amounts of data. Identify the value you bring to the customer, then uncover issues with your existing processes.
  • FMEA analysis (failure mode and effects): Detecting problems before they get out of hand can help you eliminate waste and save money. This tool allows you to examine your flow and identify issues up front.
  • 5S dashboard: This approach can help you organize your workspace for maximum efficiency. While the original tool has five S’s based on Japanese terms, many companies have added a 6th practice. These represent:
    • Sort
    • Arrange
    • Sparkle
    • Standardize
    • To support
    • Security
  • Cycle Plan Do Check Act (PDCA): Create continuous improvement by repeatedly analyzing a problem, testing a hypothesis, reviewing and then analyzing the results, and finally, putting the plan into action once it is successful.

Lean process improvement techniques

There are a number of approaches that have been created to help improve Lean processes. Just like the tools, it’s important to find the right technique for your project and your organization. For example:

Six Sigma (DMAIC model)

In an effort to reduce process variation, Six Sigma strives to increase the satisfaction of external and internal customers by standardizing the workflow. The DMAIC roadmap stands for:

  1. To define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. To improve
  5. Control


These tables allow you to visualize your workflow and use value chain mapping to break your workflows into stages. Having a visual representation of your workflow and all of the activities that go into it can help you identify inefficiencies.

Sharing this board with your entire team allows anyone to stop the process when a problem arises. From now on, it is up to everyone to find a solution.

Work-in-progress limits

In Kanban boards, there is a concept known as WIP limits or “work in progress limits”. Each step in a Kanban board workflow is represented by a column. WIP limits require you to stay under a maximum number of work items for each step. This can be per person, per work stage or for the whole project.

Putting these limits in place ensures that current tasks are completed before new ones start, and helps complete activities faster.

Final thoughts on improving Lean processes

Now that you understand how important Lean process improvement is to a successful and efficient organization, it’s a good time to reiterate that it is an ongoing process. If you try to overhaul your entire organization overnight, you will undoubtedly fail and likely make things worse than when you started.

Identify the biggest sources of inefficiency in your organization and target them first, one at a time, until you’ve built a successful business.

Finally, remember that your most valuable assets are the employees who get their hands dirty every day. Trying to identify problems and create solutions without getting their input is like going blind when you might just open your eyes.New call to action

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