Ford, Toyota and GE are companies synonymous with lean manufacturing. Their streamlined processes set the gold standard for factory production lines as organisations continue to strive for maximum output, with minimum resources and waste. But it’s no longer only factories and manufacturing plants that are running lean methodologies; SMEs are also recognising the numerous benefits going lean can bring to their bottom line, and their growth plan.
We’ve collated 5 top ways SMEs can become leaner today;
- Adapt to change
Change comes in all different forms for different organisations; for some companies, the change might come from your product and it depends on how well, and how quickly, you can ensure your product meets the market’s needs that will set you on the right path. Being agile enough to completely transform your product, if that’s what the market is asking for, is often a scary move for some SMEs, but one that will ensure you are creating a meaningful product that customers will buy.
Even after the initial startup phase, where companies are naturally lean due to their limited financial and human resources, established companies can embrace change in a few ways;
- Establish a culture of change from the early days, don’t be so set in your ways that you refuse to see things from another perspective (especially your customer). Read more about change.
- Empower your employees to change things that don’t work as well as they could – give them the power to make changes to the processes they are involved in every day
- Actively seek out change or ‘improvement’ across the business by, for example, encouraging team leaders to switch positions regularly, having senior management perform ‘shop floor’ duties and setting up communication channels for employees to share suggestions
- Leverage the technology out there
We are truly fortunate to be living in a time of easy access to game changing systems and tools that were once reserved for the big players. Technology should already be an integral part of your manufacturing or operations, but what else can technology do to help you become leaner?
- Automate any process that does not require human input; reducing resources on repetitive activities frees them up for business growth activities
- Refocus your business instantly with predictive analytics showing you the best way to operate, across all areas of your operations. Learn more about the power of analytics for your SME here.
- Make the right decisions quickly
Being able to decide the right course of action in any given situation is imperative for a growing company, and it’s not just about being confident or decisive. You need to know that the decision you make is the right one based on accurate and reliable data. You can only do that if you have a method of gathering and analysing the right information.
Decisions SMEs need to make quickly might include vendor choice, procurement timeframes or new product lines. If you can’t make a confident decision based on fact, you might be missing out on the next growth opportunity.
- Invest in an end-to-end business platform that gathers and analyses all of your business data so you can be sure you are taking the right action
- Take decisive action based on fact; it’s not always risk free but you can be sure you are minimising any unnecessary haste or indecision (neither end of the spectrum is good for SMEs)
- Position your customers at the heart of everything you do
Whilst this element can span across all the other lean methodology pieces, it definitely deserves its own mention. Without customers, you have no business, so it makes sense that they are the driving force behind your business. But while many companies know they should be doing this, very few are able to do it well, or if they do listen to their customers, they don’t act on it.
- Provide plenty of open communication channels for your customers to tell you exactly what they want from you; social media, forums, events, feedback surveys etc. are all great ways to learn more your customers
- Act on the feedback you receive. While you might not be able to change everything your customers would like, show them that you have listened and inform them about why you do or don’t do something. Creating customer advocates doesn’t mean that they are always happy with your company or product, but it does mean they care enough to help you make it even better. Learn more about customer experience.
- Bring your employees into the lean plan
Internal communication is important regardless of the size of your company. Shielding your employees from the ‘big business’ is no longer a strategy in the world of open online communication. Don’t let your employees find about changes or news within your organisation from external resources; if they don’t feel you can trust them to know the important information, they might not be as loyal as they could be.
Why does this matter for being lean? They need to be part of the story, if the business is going to be lean. They can offer insights and suggestions into how resources can be reduced and saved in ways that might never have occurred to your management team. Plus, keeping employees is much more lean than disengaging them and needing to hire new ones.
- Give them a reason to be proud working for you; involve them in key decisions and ask for their input into their work processes and systems
- Offer open channels for them to raise concerns, questions and suggestions for how the organisation can become leaner
Your SME might be experiencing an internal struggle right now between wanting to implement lean and resource-saving technology like SAP Business One but not wanting to make such a perceived big investment. If that’s you, then talk to the team at Blue Ocean Systems who can help you work through the benefits of SAP Business One and SAP HANA for powerful analytics for becoming a lean SME.
You might know or work with a company struggling to implement lean methodologies who could also benefit from industry-leading technology to boost their business. If so, connect us to them so we can explore their options.
Note: This story has also been adapted for publication in Steemit.