5 ways to adopt a lean mentality

Luke Smoothy uncovers why embracing a ‘lean’ approach to business creates needed value with fewer resources and less waste to supercharge startups and SMEs.

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Adopting a lean mentality in business is about creating a culture of continuous improvement, efficiency, and waste reduction. It originated from manufacturing but has since been applied to various industries, including software development, healthcare, and more. Here are five key steps to help you adopt a lean mentality in your business.

Startups “lean business” series

Our insightful Lean Business series is where we unravel the secrets of efficiency, innovation, and sustainable success. Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or just starting your business journey, these articles will serve as your roadmap to understanding and applying the principles of Lean thinking in practical ways.

We’ll delve into the core concepts, share real-world examples, and offer actionable tips to help you streamline your operations, eliminate waste and extraneous costs, and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement.

Join us as we embark on a journey to transform the way you think about and run your business, one Lean concept at a time. For all posts in the series, click here.

1. Understand lean principles

Firstly, it’s important to familiarise yourself and your team with the core principles of lean thinking, often summarised in the 5S framework – a fundamental component of lean manufacturing and lean management.

It is simple and uncomplicated in its approach, and has been extremely effective and successful for many start-ups and SMEs practising it: 

  • Sort: Remove unnecessary items and processes not needed for current operations. By reducing clutter and eliminating waste, you can create a more organised and efficient workspace.
  • Set in order: Organise the workplace for efficiency. This helps ensure that tools, materials, and equipment are readily accessible when needed. It also reduces the time wasted searching for items, leading to improved efficiency.
  • Shine: Keep everything clean and well-maintained, through regular cleaning and inspection of the workspace and equipment to keep everything in good working condition. 
  • Standardise: Create clear and consistent procedures to ensure that everyone can follow them, leading to consistency and predictability in operations.
  • Sustain: Make lean thinking an ongoing practice. This requires continuous monitoring, training, and employee engagement to ensure that the workplace remains organised, efficient, and clean over time. 

2. Focus on continuous improvement

I’ve always believed in fostering a culture of continuous improvement where employees are encouraged to suggest and implement changes. It helps employees and teams take responsibility for their work and arms them with the ability to make improvements to enhance their own working experience.

Having a regular review scheduled will enable you as a team to evaluate processes to find ways to make them more efficient.

Kaizen is one example of lean manufacturing tool that improves quality, productivity, safety, and workplace culture, to create continuous improvement based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap significant improvements.

3. Empower employees

By encouraging employees at all levels to take ownership of their work and suggest improvements can yield numerous benefits for both employees and the business as a whole.

Empowered employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs because they have a greater sense of ownership and control over their work. This can lead to improved motivation and higher productivity. It can also enhance creativity and innovation, encouraging employees to think critically and come up with new ideas.

An empowered team is better equipped to address issues and solve problems independently, reducing the burden on management and leading to quicker resolutions.

Overall, it can lead to improved organisational performance, increased competitiveness, and long-term success. Training, support and resources for skill development are essential to ensure employees are fully prepped for the responsibilities that come with empowerment.

4. Prioritise customer needs & identify value

By developing a ‘lean mentality’ throughout your business, owners and decision makers must identify what activities and resources add value to customers and what do not – then look to eliminate non-value-adding activities whilst boosting value-add activities.

What features of your product or service surprise and delight your customers? What do they not care about?

You can then use this to harness a mentality that focuses on offering excellent, responsive customer service, offering the right information, at the right time.

Always keep the customer in mind and align your processes to meet customer needs and expectations.

5. Collaborate with suppliers

Supplier collaboration can lead to cost savings, improved product quality, increased innovation, and enhanced supply chain resilience.

During this prolonged period of disruption, brought on by ‘the perfect storm,’ of the pandemic, Brexit, climate change and the war in Ukraine, having strong relationships with suppliers can help in finding alternative sources, managing inventory better – even reducing inventory costs – and ensuring business continuity.

By sharing information and working closely with suppliers, SMEs can also reduce the time it takes to develop and launch new products. This is particularly crucial in industries with rapidly changing customer demands and market conditions.

Additionally, suppliers can often identify potential risks and help implement strategies to mitigate them, reducing the impact of disruptions on the supply chain.

However, effective collaboration requires clear communication, trust, and a commitment to shared goals and values between buyers and suppliers.

In summary

Remember that adopting a lean mentality is an ongoing journey, not a one-time effort.

It requires dedication, patience, and a commitment to continuous improvement. It’s important to recognise and celebrate achievements and improvements, as it is to learn from failures and mistakes, as they should be used as opportunities for growth.

As your startup evolves, regularly revisit and adapt your lean practices to ensure they remain effective.

Luke Smoothy – Founder and Director of Get It Made

Get It Made was founded by Director Luke Smoothy in 2011 with just £200, underpinned by his mission to make manufacturing simple. After experiencing first-hand how difficult manufacturing can be, Luke wanted to offer a better solution to designers and engineers everywhere. Today, the London-based company is a multi-million-pound a year business and an ISO 9001 accredited manufacturer, providing outstanding manufacturing services to companies across the globe.

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