5 Ways "Lean" Operations Can Save You Money

by Stephanie Faris on November 27, 2012
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Few businesses are more efficient than the makers of automobiles. In the late 1980s, an MIT research team coined the phrase “lean manufacturing” to describe Toyota’s streamlined operations. Today, “lean” processes are being implemented beyond the factory floor to reduce excess at all sorts of industries.

When a company “goes lean,” it generally studies its daily workflow with the primary goal of identifying waste. Each resource is evaluated thoroughly to determine whether it’s absolutely necessary, and then superfluous items are eliminated.

While traditionally associated with large manufacturing plants, lean principles are now being put into practice at businesses of all sizes. These principles are inspiring small entrepreneurs in all industries to do a top-to-bottom review of current operations in order to find areas where processes can be streamlined.

Here are five criteria to evaluate as you implement lean practices in your workplace.

  1. Space: As the decade progresses, “cubicle farms” even in small offices are being traded in for wall-less offices that use every inch of space. Organization isn’t just suggested, it’s required: Employees are expected to keep every item in a designated place. If a conference area exists, make sure it’s occupied every possible hour of the business day — if not, convert it into more useful office space.
  2. Time: Those 30 minutes around the water cooler each morning are a distant memory with lean practices. Encourage your employees to be productive from the start to finish of each shift, minus applicable breaks. Offer your staff time-management tips and tricks for becoming more efficient.
  3. Materials: In lean manufacturing, if a piece of equipment on the assembly line isn’t being used less than eight hours a day, that piece of equipment should be retired. The same goes for the equipment in your office. If you have a printer on every desk and seven or eight copiers for 40 employees, evaluate how many you really need. A 12:1 printer ratio is recommended to cut down on electricity, upkeep, and paper and ink costs.
  4. Cleanliness: It can be hard to get employees to understand the importance of a clean work area. But cleanliness improves efficiency by allowing everyone to more easily access the information they need when they need it. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers [PDF], purging clutter is also good for morale: It improves people’s moods and energy levels.
  5. Workers: This is the hardest part of implementing lean processes, but it’s often necessary. If your business has idle staff, you’re losing money. By honestly evaluating the number of people you need to be productive, you can make unbiased decisions about your business. In some cases, this may require you to hire seasonal workers or to outsource some of your work.

Lean manufacturing involves evaluating every aspect of your business to ensure you’re maximizing your resources. If possible, consider bringing in an impartial consultant who can evaluate your operations without prejudice and suggest ways you can eliminate or reduce waste.

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