Is your business running smoothly? Or are you wasting resources and can’t find a way to fill the holes in your business bucket? We must learn new ways to keep our business running smoothly and efficiently and utilize resources to their peak capacity. Try a few of these lean methodologies and learn techniques to revolutionize your operational systems. This article will discuss concepts such as Value Stream Mapping, Gemba walks, and 5S methodology to eliminate waste, optimize processes, and create a culture of continuous improvement in your business. We will make it fun and easy to understand so you can bring home the bacon quickly.
So, what is streamlining your workflow, and what are these lean practices? When we say streamlining your workflow, we say efficient process optimization and improvement. It’s like adding a new exhaust pipe or intake manifold to your car for more horsepower. On the other hand, lean methodologies are simply the approach to completing this efficient process improvement. Imagine a marketing team that makes content for various social media platforms. Initially, the workflow involved many steps, including content creation, review, scheduling, and posting consistently. After a while, the team notices that their current process leads to delays and mistakes quite often. So, to streamline their workflow, they implemented a content management tool to collaborate simultaneously on projects. They created an automated review and approval process using that same platform and used the scheduling tool on the platform to post automatically so they don’t forget! Now, they spend less time with rudimentary tasks, minimize errors, and guarantee a consistent posting schedule. Now, they can focus on more high-quality content and engage with their audience. That’s not a bad fix. Now, what if many people were involved and many employees? How could you identify those holes in the operation and provide some improvement strategies? One way to continuously improve is to do a “Gemba Walkabout regularly.”
Gemba is a Japanese term that translates to “the real place” or “where the work is done.” Gemba Walks involves leaders, managers, or team members physically visiting the work location. While there, the leadership gathers information, observes processes, and engages with employees. The goal of the Gemba walk is to gain firsthand insight into how they conduct operations, identify inefficiencies, understand challenges faced by employees, and uncover opportunities for process improvement. Sometimes, they have multiple meetings with the staff, try doing the work themselves, or conduct one-to-one interviews to get down and dirty. The practice highlights the importance of direct observation, learning from those closest to work, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement based on real-world observations and data collected by the leaders. I would go into a snazzy example of this, but I think it is self-explanatory. The only other point is to use these walks as a bonding and exploratory time to “fact find” and grow your business. Use it to show honor and respect to your employees or recognize those putting in the extra effort. It would mean a lot to your humble employees or team members.
Another excellent methodology from Japan is 5S. It’s a systematic approach to organizing and optimizing workspaces. It aims to improve workplace efficiency, effectiveness, and safety. The 5s’ are from five different Japanese words. Each of them represents a vital principle of the methodology: Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Set in order), Seiso (Shine), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain). It’s a bit comprehensive, so I will plant the seed and let you look up more stuff on your own about it. As a synopsis, though, the first is Sort. Remove unnecessary items from the workplace, separating items into “keep,” “discard,” and “relocate” categories. I will keep your area tidy. Next is Seiton, or set in order. Organize the remaining items logically and ergonomically, meaning everything should have its place and be easy to retrieve and store. Then you have Seiso or Shine, meaning cleaning and maintaining the workplace regularly. Cleanliness and safety go hand in hand. After you shine it up, you Seiketsu or standardize it. It just means creating standardized procedures and guidelines for maintaining the now-organized workspace. Now you have built-in consistency and cleanliness. Last up is Shitsuke or sustain. It means establishing a culture of continuous improvement and adherence to the principles we have just discussed. Things change, but maintaining the organized state becomes easier if teaching habits coincide with regular audits. This 5s methodology is foundational in lean manufacturing and process improvement initiatives. It helps to create a visually organized and efficient workplace that supports productivity and quality improvement. I’m sure you have heard people say cleaning your room is the first step to a clear mind. It is pretty much the same principle elevated and utilized for business.
5s and Gemba walks are stapled methodologies to know. The last one is just as important and is especially so for your leadership team. The people are responsible for steering the ship. Value Stream Mapping, or VSM, is a visualization technique. VSM analyzes and improves the flow of information, materials, and processes within a business. It illustrates a comprehensive view of a particular process or system by mapping out all the steps from the initial raw materials to the final product. There are a lot of symbols, icons, and data on this map. VSM helps to identify the areas of waste, bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and opportunities for improvement. Imagine a flowchart-style diagram that represents the entire production process. The diagram shows each step as boxes connected by arrows to indicate the flow of materials and information. Along the side of each step are annotations indicating the time it takes to complete the step, including the resources required. Right next to that are notes telling if the activity is value-added or non-value-added. This process highlights bottlenecks and areas of waste and notes potential improvements. There could be things on the diagram that indicate the “Current State” talking about processes with existing inefficiencies and a diagram that shows the “Future State.” The future state is the state where you include improvements. You get the idea. It is your leadership working together with a visual representation of your efforts displayed. It’s not unusual to leave this up in shared spaces and training rooms so that the vision is ahead of you and always present in your mind. There are many ways to do a VSM, so research and find the best way that fits you and your team.
To conclude, there are many ways to practice learning methodology and streamlining your workflow. Take the lessons here, do your outside research, and try them in your organization or suggest them to your leadership team. If you tell your boss to do a “Gemba Walk,” they will ask you what you are talking about, which is a good thing. It will give you a few brownie points for sure. Don’t just read this article and not do anything about it. Instead, I would learn one lesson and apply it to my life rather than learn a hundred lessons and never do anything about it. Get after it, reader.