Business strategy; the idea is nothing new in the corporate world.
Strategies typically focus around money (making more of it to be exact) through growth, innovation, or customer experience.
What has evolved is the way that companies are planning and executing to these goals. Buying more buildings and taking big risks are not the right tactics in this current economic climate.
Conversely, companies are finding ways to do more with less, plan more carefully, and develop talent from within their own company.
An oft-overlooked methodology on achieving these goals is beginning to be adapted in companies, not just as a way of improving their work, but as a key business strategic enabler.
This concept is lean.
So what is lean and why is it becoming a frequent item on strategic initiative lists.
Lean essentially pushes you to define value in terms of what the costumer desires, and working to improve your business processes, by eliminating wastes in the processes, to better deliver the defined value to the customer.
While individuals like Fredrick Taylor and Henry Ford brought ideas of scientific management and improvement techniques to business processes, Toyota had a large role in shaping what would become known as lean through the books “The Machine that Changed the World” and later “Lean Thinking” and “The Toyota Way.”
The Toyota Production System (TPS) focuses on two foundational pillars: Respect for People and Continuous Improvement.
It is those two aspects that businesses want to embrace and utilize in their cultures.
Employee engagement and talent retention/development are key issues in the business world today.
Employers are not just looking to hire skilled workers, but to keep attrition rates down (which are costly) and support their businesses into the future by developing existing talent.
Respecting employees is more than just respect in the traditional sense, it also includes career development, improved job opportunities, and allowing them to have more of a voice in the business itself.
Further, growing current lines of business and/or expansion are also common.
In pursuing this growth, companies are not looking to add additional resources or spend extra money.
The lean focuses of eliminating waste, looking at the value stream of products or services, making product flow continuously as a pull with no interruptions, help reduce these extra resource and cost needs while effectively delivering value to the customer.
This is accomplished by finding broken or inefficient processes and correcting them.
However, it isn’t a one time pursuit to fix issues, it should be iterative and ongoing.
Now I must mention, there is far more to lean that just the few short paragraphs I’ve discussed here.
Companies committed to true continuous improvement and customer value understand lean isn’t something that can be completed overnight.
In fact, lean is never really done, hence the continuous part. There are always ways to improve and get better.
Lean shouldn’t just come from the top levels of management; it should come from every level of the organization every day.
As opportunities for improvement are identified they should be vocalized and brought to a resolution.
These resolutions shouldn’t be cost or time commitment heavy.
So what does this mean for you as you start your careers in this crazy business world.
Lean is essentially about on-going problem solving around issues that are preventing you or your team from providing superior service to customers. Employers are looking to hire problem solvers for their organization.
As the common phrase goes – present solutions, not problems.
The meaning being, don’t go to your boss and coworkers with complaints about things that do not work well for you or the clients, but rather identify ways to improve processes and services and propose potential solutions. Embracing this attitude will get you far in your career.
I was fortunate to have lean methodology included as part of my undergrad Industrial Engineering curriculum, but that doesn’t mean you have to drop your current major to pursue lean to be successful.
The great thing about lean is how versatile it is; just as it can be applied to a variety of industries, lean can supplement every major.
There are plenty of books, mentors, and training courses out there for you to pursue in addition to homework or after-work reading.
To further your knowledge, I suggest reading more about the individuals, companies and books mentioned in this article (also including “Lean Production Simplified” and “Gemba Kaizen”).
Companies such as the Lean Enterprise Institute and The Shingo Prize focus on lean learning, and can also be utilized as references.
While this article is only just skimming the surface of the benefits of lean thinking, I hope it has helped you with a basic understanding and a sparked an interest to learn more.
For any further questions please feel free to connect with me at [email protected].