There is actually quite a bit of understandable confusion regarding what defines the broad term “small business.” Technically, it could essentially mean anything from a two-man company that handles the local need for handyman work, to small scale production facilities with complicated processes at every step.
What we are going to discuss here will mostly be targeted towards small businesses with a decent workforce and at least some scale. However, some of the lean management tips will be applicable to any small business owner, even if they are the sole proprietor and employee of their company right now.
Decide on a Lean Management Strategy and Commit to It
There is no shortage of lean methods these days, as a combination of modern software tools and ancient wisdom has apparently come together in the best way possible. However, the important part is to find a lean strategy that would be the best suited for your business, and stick to it, instead of trying out too many principles at once.
Let’s for example, take hoshin planning, or what is actually known as hoshin kanri. Hoshin planning is a lean management technique based on two primary ideas:
- Finding and confirming the right direction
- Managing that direction with maximum efficiency
As one might guess, hoshin planning is introduced and implemented on an administrative level, meant for people with executive decision-making power. The many steps of hoshin kanri can be divided into the following broad categories:
- Determining and finalizing an organization’s vision & direction
- Setting small goals for breaking down the process effectively
- Setting down, deploying and implementing yearly objectives
- Monthly reviews and annual reviews.
If you want to know more, take a look at this guide for hoshin planning by Kanbanize, which provides a comprehensive introduction and step-by-step guidance for implementing the seven steps of hoshin kanri successfully. In fact, Kanbanize takes it one step further by mapping the metrics of hoshin kanri on a Kanban board, simplifying and visualizing the entire lean strategy.
Automation is actually not a new concept, because it has been around for decades now, but thanks to the recent improvements in machine learning, the usefulness of automation in lean management has now become more valid than ever before.
Although the exact details of automation tools applicable and useful in streamlining the processes in your business will vary in accordance with the concerned industry, take a look at the list below to take note of the most useful utilizations of automation for lean production and management:
- Automatic lead generation and client assignment
- Sales pipeline updates and management
- Sales & client management, follow-ups and service
- Payroll management, automatic vendor payments and payment reminders
- Help your accountant with automation tools developed for accountancy
- Introduction of advanced robotics in manufacturing, automated by AI
- Automated delivery route optimization via AI-assisted GPS with real time updates
- Minimizing the need for data entry via the use of portable barcode scanners
- Minimizing general data entry work such as form filling as much as possible with automated processes
The principle idea behind any lean management principle is to shed unnecessary steps, processes and measures from the business to boost productivity and profits.
The principle of automation is also quite similar, as it aims to minimize human effort and error, replacing it with mechanized efficiency, accuracy and productive capacity, wherever possible. This is the reason why automation and lean are so closely linked with each other, and in this modern age of business, they are often indistinguishable and mutually inclusive for streamlining production and administration.
Businesses often make the mistake of thinking that streamlining is a complicated affair, but in truth, it’s actually quite the opposite. It may seem overly complicated in the beginning, but the end goal of every step involved in streamlining a business is simplification. To implement the same in your own business with efficiency, consider the following few tips:
- Outsource, instead of increasing the number of people under your direct payroll
- Hire temps to handle seasonal rushes or particularly big orders/projects
- Keep the list of services & tools you use concise by only keeping the ones necessary
- Pay bills on time and according to your financial settings
- Pay the smaller bills as soon as possible
- Set aside tax money after every payment
- Only have meetings in person when necessary, and keep them short
- Trim down the chain of command by removing unnecessary authentication requirements
With fewer processes to handle, the business automatically becomes more productive, streamlined and profitable, which is exactly what lean manufacturing and management is all about. The steps need not all be implemented at once of course, but initiation is still important. Take your time, but get started as soon as possible. The leaner your company becomes, the easier it will be for the establishment to grow sustainably