Written by Ivan Kuzma
We all have been there. Every day we are flooded with many tasks, which we have to resolve. There are always new plans and targets that are not always reached. Urgent and operational issues have a priority. This never-ending cycle is not easy to stop. Using Lean methodology can be a solution to save some time and contribute to better organizational results. But what does Lean mean?
Focus on customers
The first step in Lean is to define who our customers are. Only then we will be able to focus on the improvements that our customers really need and add value to them. However, sometimes we have different groups of customers. For example, in the world of human resources management, there is leadership, managers, employees, job seekers, public authorities, etc. In Lean it is fine to have several different groups of customers. It is just important to understand what the needs of each group are.
Each customer group looks for something different, what makes them satisfied. Measuring of satisfaction is exactly what should be at the beginning of each improvement. If we know that our customers aren’t really satisfied, we need to get more feedback from them and listen well so that we find out what really bothers them. Otherwise, it can happen that we won’t be able to deal with the root of the problem, but only with the superficial symptoms. Our customer will then remain unsatisfied.
The more we are wasting our resources, the smaller is the added value, which we can deliver to our customers. The smaller the added value our customers receive, the smaller will be their satisfaction. Taking again HR function as an example, it doesn’t directly generate revenue for an organization. However, one of the ways how it can improve the organization’s profitability is by helping to reduce the waste of resources. It can support waste reducing initiatives within its own department, but also across the whole organisation.
The focus of lean method is on identifying and improving areas, where resources are being wasted. It is not just about material waste, but also about waste of time. Examples of time wasting may include: making corrections too often, producing reports that no one reads, spending time on trainings, which are not applied in practice, waiting too long for approvals, too frequent traveling or moving after meetings, etc.
Continuous and gradual improvement
We often face a problem that in our everyday busyness, we cannot find time to stop and identify areas where time is being wasted. Or maybe we are aware of these areas, but we cannot find time to make any improvements. Lean was developed to deal with the challenge, when we have too little time to improve. This challenge can be solved through small but regular improvement initiatives. If we are doing improvements continuously, then we get better in executing the improvement process and changes happen much faster.
It is also important that we break improvements into smaller pieces, which we can improve incrementally. It should be kind of an evolution process rather than revolution. Many improvement projects fail, because they are trying to change too much in a very short time. Sometimes improvements fail, because we want to improve something that is not in our competence or because more decision makers should have been involved in the improvement process. In Lean, we should focus first and foremost on simple things that we can improve by ourselves. For more complex projects involving more stakeholders and decision makers, it is best to work with experts, who already have experience in managing improvement projects.
Any form of improvement is about changes. In Lean, it is mainly about small changes, but sometimes even about the big ones. Therefore, it is always good to remember that there are people in the middle of these changes, for whom it is not always easy to make changes or accept them. When improving something, it is always good to be clear about that it isn’t about blaming people or improving people. It is about improving the processes and systems, which are managed and administered by people.
Sometimes people would like to change something. They are initiative, but it is still hard to improve something. It is important that these people are also empowered by leadership and provided with tools, which they need to make the improvements. If we are considering introduction of principles of continuous improvement in our organization, we should make sure that it goes hand in hand with the culture of the organization.
If organizations and leadership are trying to implement continuous improvement casually and do not devote sufficient attention and resources to it, it is very likely that such initiatives won’t be successful. On the other side, if organizations are constantly mindful of continuous improvement and are well investing into it, in a long term they will outperform organizations, which are doing continuous improvement only half-heartedly.