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The key to lean performance: Aiming for dynamic improvement, not static efficiency

Lean techniques are a popular choice for organisations seeking to reduce the use of resources, eliminate waste, work smarter and improve efficiency. In particular, many lean teams enjoy the flexibility and creativity to develop new, smarter ways of doing things. But, if you want a truly lean organisation you need to be able to translate ideas into every day practices. It’s important to recognise that while ideas and improvements trigger change, the real outcomes are delivered with each and every interaction with your customers.

Lean thinking is all about understanding and maximising customer value while minimising the use of resources. When an organisation truly understands the customer value proposition, it can focus on developing and enhancing its processes to more effectively achieve the desired outcomes. Along the way, the hunt for continual improvement encourages everyone – at all levels of the organisation – to identify new ways to reduce resource usage, streamline workflows, to develop and deliver products faster, at a higher quality and at a lower cost.

Lean thinking

Today, lean thinking has expanded well beyond its manufacturing origins. Lean adherents can be found in private and public sector organisations across all kinds of industries, from information technology and health services to construction.

Organisations need to tap into the creative input of the people in the best position to offer constructive advice. This means encouraging those responsible for carrying out the work to come forward with new ideas.

Given the opportunity, teams find it relatively easy to critique existing processes, unearthing a wealth of ideas and potential improvements. The problem is that if after six months those ideas remain on Post It notes or exist as faded marks on a whiteboard, all the effort is wasted.

Turning ideas into everyday action

The challenge is how to successfully transfer these ideas into the reality of ‘the way of work’. It’s easy to recall an email or a new document saved in the weeks after a process workshop – but a different challenge altogether to merge this into the fabric of ‘how things are done’.

Transferring these ideas into a knowledge base, the controlled library of valuable know how creates a cycle that ensures, within lean organisations, processes are not static. They become dynamic, changing and managed as an information asset.

Encouraging a dynamic improvement environment

Here are four basic rules for any organisation establishing a dynamic process environment to support its lean methodologies:

  • Establish a solid process knowledge base

Create a go-to place for processes, somewhere that everyone can quickly and easily refer to. Years ago one of the most common presentations of the knowledge base was the three ring binder. Management would issue an encyclopaedic collection of processes. These would be filed by each department, never to be referred to again.
These days, teams expect to interact with processes in the same way they use a good website. Online and easily navigable, the modern process knowledge base provides a place for interaction, invention and ingenuity

  • Encourage and develop process ownership

A process owner is someone directly engaged in the process, a person who leads the process and is therefore key to driving change. The process owner is in the box seat to identify and fix unwieldy processes. When properly empowered, he or she will collaborate with others across the business to enact wide-ranging, beneficial change.

  • Communicate processes in everyday language

When teams refer to a documented process, they rightly expect to understand the information instantly. Encyclopaedic formality might have been fine for the three ring binder, but teams no longer accept information in this format. Searchable online databases are ideal when you want to keep the communication simple, accessible and immediate.

  • Recognise that within a dynamic environment, mistakes will be made and these occasions are an opportunity to learn.

When organisations become more agile, they soon discover that not every change is an improvement. Occasionally there are mistakes and invariably, mistakes provide an opportunity to learn. This is part and parcel of the lean process.

Share the knowledge to support change management

The ability to encourage and uncover new ideas that add value and reduce waste is at the heart of lean methodologies. To create a lean organisation, processes must be made accessible, usable and changeable.

Without a platform for managing and communicating processes, too many organisations have discovered just how difficult it can be to turn good ideas into everyday practice.

About the author:

This article was written by Ivan Seselj, CEO of Promapp, developer of cloud based process management software.

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Ivan Seselj

Ivan Seselj

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