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Understanding Lean Process Improvement

Lean process improvement is a strategy focused on creating long-term growth through increased efficiency with the customer in mind. Lean process improvement steps are then less of a short-term fix and more a philosophy around continuous improvement.  Companies should then be willing to learn more about the lean improvement cycle and support increasing profits at their organizations. 

What Is Lean Process Improvement?

Put simply; lean process improvement is about reducing waste and inefficiencies at an organization. It focuses on customer-centered decision-making with an overall goal of meeting a customer’s wants and anticipated needs.

The origins of “lean” stem from Toyota’s attempt to improve auto assembly line efficiencies. Toyota’s production system was having difficulties meeting supply and demand using existing processes. So the principle was born: create a workflow that improved efficiencies across the board to get products to the consumer faster. The principles have been adopted across industries, even within the vaccine rollout. 

The Basics of Lean

There are five main principles of lean that make up the overall lean principle. The lean process improvement steps below are part of a continuous cycle, as you’ll see with fundamental principles. 

1. Identify Customer Value

Use new or existing data to identify your customer base’s wants or needs. Moving forward with products that an intended audience may or may not need is an inefficient, even costly, strategy. Market research is critical as a way to add value to novel products or services and decision-making.

2. Identify Steps in the Value Stream

Once value points have been identified, lean organizations should map steps to meet them. For example, identify process inefficiencies and eliminate what is standing in the way of the end goal: meeting the identified needs of customers. This step can involve difficult decisions about cutting areas of identified waste operating at a company for a lengthy period. The priority here, however, should be on keeping operations as lean or straightforward as possible.

3. Create an Efficient Workflow

Lay the groundwork for efficient business processes that keep customer value in mind. That groundwork is your organization’s workflow, and any inefficiencies missed may be adjusted here to prevent delays and added costs. 

4. Develop a Pull-Based System

Eliminating waste can create a flow of products where inventory is monitored on a live schedule. It may feel counterintuitive to operate in a pull-based system. However, it’s more an indication of a high level of operational agility, and the lean approach is all about minimizing waste. For example, stocking your inventory with products can be wasteful if you don’t have data to back up their demand. So, teams should create a system that identifies customer’s needs while reducing inventory that may be causing waste company-wide.

5. Continuous improvement

Big decisions in organizations should not be made in a vacuum, and new strategies should be data-driven. Data can tell you; what was the impact of those changes? Did improvements meet expectations? Customer needs change, as do the needs of an organization. Lean should not be considered a temporary fix. Some organizations may need to repeat the cycle to benefit from real change. The benefits will grow alongside a company striving to deliver better as an overarching goal.

A dial labeled "waste' set on low. The concept of waste reduction with lean process improvement.

Benefits of a Lean Improvement Cycle

There are several benefits of adopting a lean improvement cycle. At the top of the list is added value for that customer base. In addition, high efficiency means deliverables are sent to customers faster, and customers boast a higher satisfaction rate. That prioritization can even become part of a company’s branding.

On the business side, companies can cut costs by reducing areas identified as irrelevant in the growth of a business. Reducing bloat in processes deemed inefficient or ineffective can open up funds in other areas better suited to business goals.

Lean businesses remain competitive by growing alongside others in that same industry. They often pull ahead of companies not as invested in process improvements. 

Lean process improvement promotes operational agility and adaptability. As workflows are tested, tweaks may need to be made, especially if an organization’s first attempt at these kinds of efficiency changes. 

The process creates opportunities for collaboration within an organization. However, lean requires buy-in across a company, as efficiency standards must be considered no matter the team.

Finally, lean process improvement steps support digital transformation. Efficiency often improves as new technology creates room for growth. For instance, teams with reduced waste can work on bigger-picture goals.

Lean Business Processes

Lean and business process management work simultaneously, as both are about using existing resources more innovatively. Reducing waste in the lean process is strategic and will vary from company to company.

Business processes, as with lean, are also typically focused on reducing, even eliminating, inefficiencies. Long-term, continuous approaches create space for long-term growth. 

The customized solutions offered at Trinity are aligned with the principles of lean. As a result, we have the right tools to improve company-wide productivity at your organization. We’ll guide your business in the right direction for long-term growth and a satisfied customer base.

Scott Burday