Date: 04/03/2015 | By: Liz Painter

Is your business a lean mean fighting machine or a sluggish sloth-like creature?  Does everything work cleanly and efficiently or do you and your staff lose hours a week to clunky systems that aren’t fit for purpose?

Lean thinking is used throughout the business world and beyond to save organisations time and money.  But it’s not just for massive corporations or huge public sector organisations like the NHS.  Everyone from the freelancer or one-man band to the substantial SME will benefit from taking a look at the way they work.

The original lean technique was developed by the car manufacturer Toyota as a way to improve the flow of goods through the product cycle, reduce delays and eliminate waste.  They took the production line system invented by Henry Ford and perfected it to run much more smoothly and efficiently.

Lean thinking has been embraced across the business world and much of it happens to be common sense.  For example, if you’re in the business of selling cups of coffee, then you keep your cups next to the coffee machine.  If you don’t then you or your staff will waste several seconds getting a cup every time you serve a customer.

To apply lean thinking to your own business, there are five steps you need to follow:

1. Work Out What’s Important

Not all of the time and effort that goes into providing a product or service will add something of value to your customers.  If it doesn’t add value to your customers, why are you doing it?

2. Make a List of Your Key Processes

What are the activities you undertake to sell, make and deliver your product or service?  Write them all down.

3. Turn Your List into a Diagram

Make a diagram of your key processes, perhaps by creating a flow chart.  This will provide a really clear view of what is happening in your business.

4. Eliminate Waste

Look at all the steps in your diagram and see what can be streamlined or cut out.

5. Make Changes and Monitor Progress

Change your processes to make things more efficient and then keep an eye on how this impacts on customer service.  If the changes are successful then you may want to look at streamlining other areas of your business.

Another advantage to lean thinking is that cutting out waste will almost inevitably make your business more environmentally friendly.  So you can turn your business into a lean green fighting machine… like the incredible hulk, but friendlier.

Do you think your business would benefit from some lean thinking?  What could you change today to make you more efficient tomorrow?