Trim the fat to get lean quick

In a time when businesses are looking to make serious cost reductions and make their operations more efficient, it is evident that a growing number of companies are turning to lean principles to help them with waste reduction. Here's what they need to know.

Lean management is all about cutting out 'waste' which is defined as the expenditure of resources for anything other than creating value for an organisation's customers.

Ultimately, if lean is implemented properly, it should result in less work, but without any detriment to the customer experience.

While numerous companies have implemented lean strategies to huge success, the process can be taxing for managers, not least because lean waste reduction tactics often seem at odds with what is viewed as good management practice.

Waste Reduction versus Good Management

According to a report from Ad Esse Consulting, many processes which managers think of as part of their job actually add little or no value for the customer, and are carried out more out of habit than for any real purpose.

For example, the firm highlights the huge number of checks which managers perform each day, most of which have developed from having a risk averse culture in which people feel the need to 'cover their backs' constantly.

The wide variety of checks people implement, ranging from verifying expense claims to signing off people's work, are time consuming and in many instances could be stopped.

"Whilst we're not trying to say you can get rid of every check, applying lean principles means challenging every step in the process, including checks and referrals to managers for sign-offs.

"Challenging the processes will always highlight a number of checks which have been built in either because something has gone wrong in the past, a totally risk averse culture has developed, or people feel the need to 'cover their backs'. Very often, the cost of the actual checking is higher than the risk of failure!" the report stated.

The report continued to say that in some cases more than one check is put in place, which, rather than demonstrating careful management, simply suggests that the first check is inadequate. If lean methodology was applied to such a scenario, it would look at the first check and aim to improve it so that only one was needed, or attempt to eliminate all checks completely.

While it can be difficult for senior managers to look at their own processes critically, cutting out any unnecessary procedures can ensure that their department is running to the best of its ability.

Building Staff Support

When implementing lean waste reduction strategies, senior level employees may also find that they come up against hostility from team members, who think that cutting waste automatically means cutting jobs.

In order to combat this, it is important that senior managers communicate effectively with their staff and are able to fully inform them about what changes will be taking place and any benefits they will bring.

Managers should also ensure that they are fully up to speed with the waste reduction strategies, so they can answer any questions their teams have.

Ultimately, in order to work, lean waste reduction needs to be an integral part of business strategy and has to have the full support of the management team, who can pass the message down through to their staff.