Improving Workplace Efficiency: One Lean Step at a Time

I like to think of a working environment as one body of movement, a system of metaphorical cells, organs, and subsystems working together to create life. In business, this “life” usually comes in the form of customer value and/or product output, depending on the industry in which you reside. Just as we think about healthy eating and exercise as ways to keep our bodies and minds active and fit, it is important to adopt practices that are healthy for your business. Just like diet fads and workout crazes, workplace efficiency is about trimming the fat, and highlighting those lean muscles. Lean business, a term which saw its adoption in the 1990’s but was practiced years previously, refers to the process of shedding away any part of daily tasks that don’t directly add to customer value, and thus it slows down your business. In this article, we’re going to go over a few lean principles that you can use to trim down your potentially wasted time and costs. As we go through, consider which recommendations might be most relevant to your business, and how you could mold the ones that aren’t to still offer some value.

Go with the Flow

When you think of the most efficient examples of production in the business world, your mind probably thinks of a factory. Assembly lines are planned, precise, largely automated, and highly efficient. They aim to produce the most amount of product with the least overhead. If you’re managing an office, you should try to see your work floor in the same way. Think about how your workers’ schedules are blocked out. Are they constantly interrupted mid-project to answer phones? What if only certain people were left to answer phones for a set amount of time while the others could hunker down and make headway on their projects? Multi-tasking often translates to lower efficiency in the end, so look at how blocking out time for certain activities and separating them can help your flow.

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Standard Operating Procedure

K.I.S.S. endearingly stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” In business, we could just as easily replace “simple” with “standard” and “stupid” with, um, something nicer. “Sir,” maybe? The point is, having a standard way of going about certain tasks is vital to staying efficient. The repetitive nature of a factory means every action is standardized, there’s a certain way to do it, and its the same every time. In a workplace, taking abstract or unorganized activities and boiling them down to standard steps can save you time and guesswork. This is why large, successful companies have a procedure for almost everything, from answering a telephone to filing suggestions, to running meetings.

Lean on Me

There are lots of other resources out there to learn about lean practices and how you can integrate them. “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis comes with high praise from Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, and others. Another way to glean helpful lean techniques and tips is to look at the personal blogs of CEO’s and directors involved in large enterprises; these guys have put lean techniques into action and more often than not have also written about their process.

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