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What We Can All Learn From Lean Manufacturing

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If you’re running a company, whether it’s B2B or B2C, increasing efficiency should always be a priority. Whether you’re managing a massive factory producing components for complex machinery, or spend your days in an open-plan office, drafting budgets, plans and reports, you’re producing something, and there’ll always be some way of increasing the whole operation’s productivity. The principles that hang over lean manufacturing, enabling businesses to give their customers more value for less work, are essential to improving the output of any business. Here, we’ll look at a few prominent lean manufacturing concepts, and what they could mean for your business.

Incorporate 5-S

If you’ve always worked in the B2C sector, then the concept of 5S may be completely alien to you. It may sound cryptic, but in fact it’s one of the simplest lean manufacturing concepts that have ever been used, as well as one of the most accessible. The 5 S’s are; sort, set in order, shine, sustain and standardise. When companies are able to bring 5S in as part of their lean manufacturing initiative, they purge any unnecessary tools and supplies from the workplace, make sure the necessary ones are set into their specific places, that all the workspaces and equipment is clean, and that this new way of organising things is applied consistently. After organising the workplace, you should also try to do something to improve the flow of information. Ensuring that all your employees have quick and easy access to the information they need to work is much more important than a clean and organised workplace! This can call for tightly organised cloud sharing interfaces in larger companies, but if you’re running a start-up with only a handful of employees, sometimes a simple whiteboard can be all you need to keep everyone in the loop.

Standardise Work

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All big manufacturing operations have a rigid, standardised way of doing things, from the movement a robotic arm uses to pick up a component to the pressure measured in a precision non-invasive flow meter check. Keeping to these strict standards keeps the whole operation running efficiently, and minimises the chance of any defects. In the more information-oriented, white-collar side of things, however, very little of the work tends to be standardised. For example, there’s no real way to standardise the way a meeting is conducted, reply to emails, or perform a budget analysis. However, by establishing a little more guidance and procedure when it comes to these less hands-on tasks, it could prevent many common mistakes and oversights that occur in businesses. Let’s say, for example, that you were producing sports and fitness equipment, and commissioned your R&D team to develop a new running shoe. When they show you the prototype, you see that they’ve loaded it with so many gimmicks and new design elements that it impedes the style and comfort for the wearer. This kind of mishap could easily be avoided by setting a few clear standards before you let another department have at it.

Focus on Flow

In any manufacturing business, letting the production line stop is an extremely costly and wasteful action. In factories all over the world, there’s all kinds of work going on to ensure that nothing gets in the way of the flow of material in a given production line. This is a practice that all business owners can benefit from. The workers in a typical office floor are constantly having their work impeded, whether by important emails from the boss that are popping up or simply by small talk with their colleagues. The best way to take a leaf from those successful manufacturing plants’ books is to establish systematic apparatus and service-level agreements that will encourage your workers to keep their head down and focus on the task at hand. Let’s say, for example, you’re running an IT company, where you have a help desk that needs to be manned around the clock, while your stretched workforce carries on working on other projects. You may find things more efficient by rotating staff through help desk shifts on a daily basis. While one or two people man the help desk from 9 to 12, everyone else on the floor will be free to concentrate on their own workloads, without having to drop things at a moment’s notice and go deal with customer complaints. When an individual’s work is singular for a decent period of time, without becoming monotonous, it’s so much easier for them to stay focussed, and apply themselves to their maximum potential.