Lean Process Improvements Demand Lean Workload

I will try to be sensitive to the mixed feelings and opinions on this topic. However, our economic crisis is growing worse daily so it’s time to dispense some tough love. There are mission-critical, core competency processes in your organization that require immediate, exacting and concerted attention and effort in order to eliminate any remaining waste. Eliminating waste reduces your cost and liberates valuable resources making you a bit more profitable. You must be lean or leaner as soon as humanly possible. If you are successful in this endeavor, you will save someone’s job. Perhaps your own. You will contribute to valuable cost reductions while you stimulate innovation and improved competitiveness. Sounds good doesn’t it?

You Have A Problem

Getting lean now must become your singular focus. Organizations of all kinds make the common mistake – all year long though especially in crisis – of heaping too many responsibilities and priorities atop their managers and directors. By over-committing their time, you effectively neuter their ability to affect change effectively. A manager or director who finds themselves assigned to several new crisis management initiatives (en vogue these past weeks) while remaining married to their regular crop of assignments will struggle to decide which task, which meeting, which fire deserves their attention. Your problem is most likely an executive leadership problem.

You Need A Prioritized Inventory

Every manager, director and executive needs to make a list of all their responsibilities. This sounds so silly but in crisis mode, simple thinking seems to be the first casualty so I don’t mind reminding you. Schedule a stand-up meeting and share your lists with one another. Make strategic decisions as to what is priority and what is not. Priority = urgent + important. If a task or commitment is a priority then you must attend to it at the exclusion of something else. You will scratch something off your list being careful to delegate it to someone else or save it on your list of to-do’s for later. You should only have as many commitments as can be effectively executed right now.

Don’t Be An Oxy-Moron – Lean Means Lean

If you hope to pull the right people into the room and effectively execute lean process improvements, you need to know that their participation is a priority; their participation will require that they stop doing something else; and that their participation will require as little wasted time as possible.

Lean Project Waste:

  • over-processing = too much time in meetings talking in a non-value add fashion.
  • transport waste = making people travel to meetings when they could join by phone or video conference.
  • motion waste = the time required to walk from end of the building to another, from the airport terminal to the rental car desk, from the restaurant to the office building. Too many ineffective meetings (be honest!) are cause for many thousands of wasted dollars simply moving around.
  • inventory waste = when too many meetings result in too many tasks and commitments, those tasks tend to pile up and remain “almost done” don’t they? Too many people in the meeting? What does that inventory cost you? Could the extra people be out selling?
  • over-production = too many meetings with too many people who wind up with too many assignments.
  • waiting waste = waiting for the meeting to begin, waiting between meetings, waiting for the meeting to end, waiting for the deliverable that is “almost done”. Assume each manager or director in a meeting costs you $50 per hour. If you have 10 people in a meeting and the non-value add time they waste is roughly an hour (getting there, interrupted workflow, sitting around the table before and after), then you can surmise that your meeting cost the company $500 above and beyond the cost of the meeting. Multiply this number by the number of meetings per day and per week in your organization. Get the picture?
  • defect waste = all the meetings that don’t produce new outcomes, new rules, better decisions or anything that is actually 100% DONE.

Leading Lean Process Improvements

Your organization requires leadership and thoughtful execution of high-priority work. People need to be honest, respectful yet objective and assertive. Here are some suggestions as you move forward:

  1. assign an executive full responsibility for your lean process improvement initiative.
  2. assign multiple project managers and process owners. One each if need be.
  3. clear the deck. show everyone what is not going to get done.
  4. create a common area or new work space for the lean team.
  5. create a dedicated, cross-functional team or circle of excellence and brand their efforts (the “Lean Machine” or whatever)
  6. temporarily contract for missing expertise. Bring a consultant on-board with a limited scope of work for a limited time and negotiate a hard bargain. Buyers rule right now.
  7. eliminate the internal competition for resources. If someone in leadership does not understand that the lean team is committed or does not agree to participate when called upon, send the responsible executive after them. This is serious business. Nip it in the bud.
  8. establish performance metrics, benchmarks and a baseline. Measure what matters most as often as is appropriate and broadcast results. Celebrate victories.
  9. hint: start with sales process improvement. Make that lean and everything else gets a bit easier.
  10. tell your customers. Tell your story and listen to what matters most (adds value) in their minds.

We are living through an unprecedented economic upheaval. One that likely will redefine our business and careers indefinitely. As conditions worsen before they improve, we must focus on those thoughts, words and deeds that add value and move us toward safer shores. I am not advocating working conditions that burn people out, however, time wasted is lost forever. When we look back on this chapter, we want to know that we contributed our very best to the solution. Prioritize and dedicate yourself and your people. Six and twelve months from now, you’ll be proud and happy that you did.


2 responses to “Lean Process Improvements Demand Lean Workload

  1. wow..Lean on Lean is really the way to do a biz.I do like your points and I would like to share with my colleague on the kta to move forward.

  2. Patrick Joseph Gauthier

    Bard – thanks so much for kind words. I’m delighted that your team is pressing on. That’s the spirit we need in business right now!


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