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Unlock Your Potential Now: The Power of Lean for SMEs

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Unlock Your Potential Now: The Power of Lean for SMEs

Implementing lean process improvement for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in the 21st century involves a systematic approach to enhancing efficiency, reducing waste, and increasing value to customers. Lean methodologies, originally developed in the manufacturing sector, have evolved to be applicable across various industries including services, healthcare, and software.

I like to use the term “Lean Process Improvement” rather than Lean Manufacturing because of Lean’s applicability to other industries. Lean Process Improvement demonstrates that excellence can be achieved at the least cost through process improvement. SMEs in today’s marketplace face the challenge of doing more with less. Interestingly, meeting the challenge requires a focus on process improvement.

This approach to improving performance (doing more) while using the minimum number of precious resources (with less) is the heart of Lean Process Improvement. Lean process improvement engages everyone in your organization in simplifying and streamlining their work processes by identifying and eliminating the wasteful steps.

Lean View of a Process

Everything we do, whether in our personal life or work life is a function of a process – making a sandwich, conducting a meeting, preparing a report – they are all processes. Each process is made up of a series of discrete steps that include a defined beginning step, a defined end step, and multiple steps between the two. This series of process steps yield an intended result (product or service) that is desired (valued) by someone (customer). The important relationship among customer, value, and process distinguishes the Lean philosophy:

  • Lean views a process as a function of the value added in each process step as it is perceived by the customer
  • In Lean, “Value” is defined as the worth of something to the customer/end-user as measured by his/her willingness to pay for it in time or money.

It follows, then, that if a process step doesn’t add value, it should not be done. Stated another way: If the customer/end-user doesn’t value what is done in a process step enough to wait or pay for it, why waste the money, time, and effort to do it?

The answer is you don’t unless it is necessary to sustain the business (regulatory requirements or government mandates)

How Does Lean Process Improvement Work

Lean is a respect-based improvement program. It respects each worker as a human person. It respects everyone’s knowledge and contribution. It promotes growth in both areas so workers as well as managers learn and improve.

Lean also recognizes the importance of each process and person to the overall success of the organization’s mission. With respect as a core value, Lean improves essential trust relationships at the same time it improves processes – worker to worker, worker to company, and company to worker. The health of these relationships directly shapes the image of the organization, both internal and external.

Lean is a dynamic and authentic continuous improvement process. It promotes a constant state of re-evaluation that asks, can this be done in a better way or with a better outcome? What can be eliminated in the process without reducing value to the customer/end-user? Lean is proactive rather than reactive. It seeks to anticipate and prevent rather than fix and resolve.

Once begun, Lean never ends. Improvements are built upon one another in a recurrent cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act. Lean is simply the scientific method applied to every facet of operation in your organization. People who know their work processes intimately theorize what they can do differently to improve those processes. They test their theory. If the theory works, they implement the improvement and then search for a new improvement theory to test. If the theory doesn’t work, they don’t implement the change. They then search for another change theory to test. In each case the cycle starts again. Lean is a never-ending quest for perfection.

Implementing Lean does not create chaotic anarchy. While workers can independently improve the processes they own, many processes are not wholly owned by one person, but are shared. They may cross departments. In processes that have multiple owners, the proposed change is first reviewed to ensure it is positive for all owners, is in line with vision goals, and meets essential requirements.

The net effect of Lean Process Improvement at both the personal and organizational levels is increased performance, improved satisfaction, and better stewardship of resources (cost savings).

According to a study, the level of Lean manufacturing integration in SMEs is low, and knowledge of it is poor. If you are a small to midsize organization the key takeaway is Lean process improvement is a systematic approach that can help you improve your bottom line by:

  • Streamlining processes
  • Enhancing productivity
  • Eliminating waste
  • Maximizing value for customers

Contact us today to learn more about how we help SMEs implement lean process improvement with minimal disruption to their business.

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