Lean – How, What and When to Improve

Whatever stage you’ve reached on your Lean journey, you need to know how and what you should be improving.  We’ve all encountered (been guilty of?) the “Too busy to improve” syndrome, but what exactly should you be doing when business is flat-out, and what should you be concentrating on when things are quiet? Well, now that we’re talking strategy you won’t be suprised to hear that there’s a two-by-two grid for that! I’ve attached a PDF copy here: Improvement – How, What and When,  [opens in a new window] so let’s run through what it means – the How, What and When of Lean.

As you can see the two sides to the grid are (a) “Busy” (lots of orders) -vs- “Quiet (few orders), and (b) “Inefficient” – vs- Lean. So we have four combinations or boxes to look at:

1. Inefficent and Quiet. You definitely don’t want to be starting from here! If you are then you might simply have left it too late. If you can rescue the business then you need to take massive turnaround action. From a Lean perspective you’ll probably want to focus first on quick cost-reduction, and cash-generation. Areas to consider include: Easy, High Impact ideas to reduce cost, ways to reduce stock and work-in-process (lead-time reduction, SMED to reduce batch sizes), 5S sort-out’s to convert unused assets into cash.

2. Inefficent and Busy. As we’ve said the biggest danger here is falling into the “Too busy to improve” trap. “Busy Fools” is the common description – you’re putting in lots of time, effort and energy but you have very little to show for it and you’re often making little or no profit, or even running at a loss. The most important thing is to tackle the worst areas of inefficiency as quickly as possible, and to do it in a way that takes up as little time and resource as possible. Look for rapid employee engagement to generate Quick Wins: Easy, High Impact ideas to reduce all forms of waste, with a particular focus on tackling those that waste the most time and money.

3. Lean but Quiet. You’ll already have addressed those areas that actively lose you business – customer complaints and non-conformances – so the key focus of Lean here should be on increasing Value-Add. In other words, finding ways of providing more and more value for your customers, and actively selling the value of what you offer, rather than the cost. Areas to focus on include: cross-functional teams to visit customers and spot value-add opportunities, Voice of the Customer exercises, and use of the Kano Model.

4. Lean and Busy. This is where it gets really good – you’re working flat-out and throwing off cash as you go! The main focus here (apart from sustaining Lean)  is to ensure that you re-invest, you innovate (to ensure you continue to succeed) and you look for opportunities to inspire excellent performance. Success generates success so it’s time to think about some of those “what would you do if you knew you couldn’t possibly fail” ideas! It’s time to think about larger investments to achieve a step-change in performance – increasing your capability not just your capacity. You probably also need to check that you’re up to date with current technology – unless you’re a technology-led business you probably don’t need to be at the cutting-edge but you do need to make sure that you’re making best use of proven, up-to-date appplications.

Leave a Reply