Steps to become Leaner

A common requirement for many businesses is to become leaner or more efficient, that is the main reason why businesses look to Kaizen, Agile, Six sigma etc.... for ways to achieve this. Each has it's own strengths.

When I started writing this blog post I was hoping to be able to provide a simple step by step high level guide to creating leaner processes. But as I progressed I found that without a context, some of the steps may not make sense but to prevent writing a lengthy post can I request that comments are made or queries emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I will try and respond to all.

The steps below provide an outline and are not really specific to any of the methodologies mentioned above, but provide a condensed framework that can provide a start towards your chosen method.

General principles to follow:

  1. Place linked\dependent processes or departments near each other to facilitate interaction. Remove any barriers both physical and electronic, to encourage communication.
  2. Standardise processes and the way you work. Explore daily behaviours and remove any custom or bespoke processes being used by individuals - or subsume them and bring them in as best practise.
  3. Look for any areas where work is returned, find out why and look to remove any inconsistencies. Break it down to eliminate the reason or bottleneck and remove any uncertainty from the process.
  4. Determine the level of performance you would need to satisfy client expectations. For example, if you need to process 10 applications per hour, you would need to process 1 every 6 minutes as a minimum. Time your existing process at each stage to gain baseline and then challenge your people to bring it down, make it leaner.
  5. Balance workloads and look for areas where there is a discrepancy in the amount of work. Places where there may be peaks and look to smooth the curve, either by reworking/re-designing processes or reallocating resources. It is no good having one team work flat out while another is not.
  6. Group together tasks of a similar level of complexity\difficulty and assign different performance goals. Allows lower\less complex tasks to have a higher performance measure whilst more complex tasks have different measures. An example, new business applications for life policies which may require a full medical and additional paperwork. Whilst the majority may not. Having the same team process these applications may seem to make sense but slows down the team and the number of applications that may be completed. Create 2 groups one to deal with complex and one for non complex applications, each with their own performance targets. This should lead to a marked increase in completed non complex applications as the bottleneck (complex applications waiting on paperwork) has been removed, with no negative impact in the complex applications being completed.
  7. This next one is a bit controversial for some businesses; publicise\make transparent performance results. Allow everyone to see how the performance is faring let them see where the bottlenecks are. Use them to celebrate improvements and provide a focus point for discussions on how to improve. Maybe a whiteboard or noticeboard in a shared area with room for groups\departments to gather and discuss.
  8. Set client focused metrics not internal ones that do not matter. Look at your existing KPIs and ask how they effect the service to your clients. If it is not immediately clear then your teams won't understand either, they need to be reviewed. Make sure they are clear and link transparently to a positive delivery to your clients or to your strategic objectives.

The above seems fairly straight forward common sense but just scratch the surface and do routinely fail at the point of implementation. Not because they have been approached incorrectly but through the lack of communication and engagement with the people or teams effected. Everyone involved or who will be effected needs to understand 'WHY' the change is required and 'HOW' it will be implemented and that it will be a source of continuous review and improvement.

In many businesses without stable, consistent and robust processes; daily operations are constantly and routinely interrupted by problems so much so that it becomes normal. Management is needed to to direct and support the processes just to make them work. Management becomes embedded in the process in fire fighting mode, instead of looking at ways to improve the process or look at new opportunities.

Just empowering your teams will not be the answer as it does require help, experience and discipline. It would be a start but access to material\training will be required to help link the steps and to help them gain an understanding.

Hope this post has provided some ideas or food for thought.