Going lean - It's not just for automakers and industrialists anymore. Strategies for stream lining that have traditionally been the stuff of factory floors are now within reach of small businesses. And technology is helping small-business owners achieve it faster. Software developers suggest that by tying in some app-driven tools, going lean can be more powerful and effective than ever before.
Simplify processes and reduce repetition.
Apps are increasingly the go-to tools for the endless pile of invoices, accounting worksheets and reservation logs that plague small businesses. And it's not just about automation. For example, a work-request submission could automatically create a draft invoice, schedule a meeting, add a contact to the CRM, create a new item in a project-management app, add the customer to a newsletter, and send the consultant a text message summary. All of this stands to cut administrative costs, again putting more resources toward business growth.
Your frontline workers become your key problem solvers.
Just as your customers are the key bearers of information about your product or service experience, your frontline workers are your best-informed sources for resolving internal situations. Free them from low-level tasks (as outlined in step 1), and get them involved in process reconstruction. The builders of lean industry knew this: They created "kaizen workshops" where employees who worked on the frontline and were familiar with the day-to-day details were instructed to tackle some of the hardest problems top-level managers wanted to solve. As your predecessors at that scale discovered, deep familiarity breeds deep insight when it comes to problem solving.
Introduce an "andon" cord.
In the old school lean factory, there was a tool that helped reshape how challenges are met. The tool is the andon cord. Pull it and the line stops. The idea was that the individual could save a whole project with a quick-enough response. Think about how this applies to problem solving in a small business. The dishwasher discovers that a glass cup is broken—he shuts down the prep lines before any more food goes out (preventing a dining-room catastrophe). Your shipping manager discovers that a pallet of boots instead of sneakers left the dock; she stops the trucks before they move another mile (saving fuel and time). Give your employees the equivalent of the andon cord, and they can stop the system and introduce a new piece of information or a warning. This is both authorized and encouraged. Empower your team and cut the waste, and potential damage, out of chain-of-command slowdowns.
Promote just-in-time problem solving.
The next step is that problems should be prioritized by a just-in-time process. Like a pyramid, you consider the problem with the highest impact potential to be in the top 20 percent of the model, and everything below those are secondary or tertiary focuses until they emerge as significant pain points. Sometimes they never do, but you deal with each solution at the just-in-time level. Additionally, as the automation from step 1 takes root, more free time becomes available to your team. And with it, you can start working on the secondary problems.
Streamlining your business processes can save your business and employees time and money. Some of these solutions may not be directly related to your business model, but finding ways to apply these concepts can be a huge help for your business.