Applying Lean Principles for Continuous Improvement

We recently discussed Anima's approach to ​​developing operational excellence within a business unit or across an organisation. A crucial part of that endeavour is regularly assessing values, customer needs, and performance to establish a continuous improvement mindset. 

For some, continuous improvement' might be synonymous with extreme scrutiny. And to some extent, this is true. But it should not be viewed as an opportunity to nit-pick performance. Instead, continuous improvement should empower everyone in the organisation to look for opportunities to add value to the business and its customers. 

What is the right approach that will instil this mindset in your organisation's culture? I suggest we turn to "lean principles" as a guiding philosophy for achieving this state. 

Lean principles provide a methodology for organisations to improve processes and eliminate waste. Applying lean thinking enables companies to streamline operations, reduce costs, improve quality, and better meet customer needs. Let's take a moment to define lean principles and discuss how to use them for continuous improvement.

What Are Lean Principles Anyway?

Lean principles started in the automotive industry, but the concepts can be applied to any business to streamline operations. The main idea is to identify what actions create value for customers and focus on doing more of that and less of everything else (as discussed in our previous blog post). 

There are five critical pillars of lean thinking:

  1. Understand Your Customer: Customers must be central to a continuous improvement culture shift; Determining what your customers truly value will make identifying what to focus on easier. 

  2. Map the Value Stream: Make a map of all your current processes from start to finish. Assess each step to see what adds value and is just wasteful. 

  3. Redesign and Eliminate: Anything wasteful should be redesigned or tossed out entirely. New workflows should smooth out processes and not create any further obstacles. Ideally, you should create a seamless flow from raw materials (or any other input required for services) to finished products/services that are as frictionless as possible.

  4. Only Produce What's Needed: Production should be based on customer demand, not guesses. This prevents overproduction and excess inventory just sitting around.

  5. Empower Your Team: Everyone within your organisation should look for ways to improve to make their ideas heard. 

At its core, lean principles are about cutting out waste, improving workflows, and responding to the actual demands of your customers. This will eventually produce more efficient, flexible, and customer-focused processes.

Applying Lean Principles to Everyday Business Challenges

While these principles sound good in theory, applying them can be another challenge. You can do a few things to shift your culture towards a continuous improvement mindset. 

In addition to talking to your customers and identifying their needs, it's also essential to engage the employees doing the work. What might seem innocuous to management might be quite difficult for employees. There might be unseen obstacles to getting work done in a certain way. Employees can provide critical insights that can help you streamline workflows. Keep at least an idea box where workers can anonymously submit ideas; this will reduce the pressure to present an idea and the fear of rejecting it. 

Additionally, rewarding employees for eliminating waste and improving processes is a good idea, not just for meeting fixed targets. This drives employee buy-in and will create a continuous improvement culture.

Looking for incremental improvements rather than significant sweeping changes is also essential. Sometimes, small changes can have rippling, positive impacts. 

Finally, benchmark against competitors and best practices. Consider new technologies, tools, layouts, and training that could further optimise your processes. 

Applying lean principles requires changing mindsets around how work gets done, not just tweaking processes. When done effectively, lean thinking creates more robust systems capable of continuous improvement to meet ever-evolving customer needs and processes that outperform the competition. The journey is ongoing, but the results in efficiency and quality are well worth the effort.

Are you looking to implement a continuous improvement culture in your business?

Schedule your personalised ​​clarity call and make a move toward developing operational excellence at your organisation.

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Doing the Right Things First to Achieve Operational Excellence