What Lean and Six Sigma aim to achieve is not about clever or high tech solutions, but fundamental good practice.
Small and medium businesses
The techniques of Lean and Six Sigma are not confined to either large or manufacturing organisations; they are also used effectively in other sectors and by small to medium sized businesses (SME).
The key to success is that the approaches MUST be applied from the top down, from a strategic level to an operational level, looking across the entire ‘customer value stream’, ie the parts of the process that the customer is ultimately prepared to pay for. It is particularly important that as an SME grows it does so based on these philosophies. This is because the savings available from getting it right first time and from only doing those things that add value to the customer will become part of the company’s culture and success.
One technique known as 5S is essentially about organising the work place so that it is specifically laid out, and has all the tools, for its purpose; ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’. So look at your desks, electronic and hard copy files; can you honestly find or access all the information you need on a customer job in say less than ten seconds with the minimum of physical movement? This may seem like a silly example, but how much time have you lost in unnecessary searches and movement instead of providing value to your customers?
Multi-function working is an example of Lean. It is the opposite of ‘Silo’ working, a holy grail which often needs to be challenged.
Silo working is where each department – sales, admin, transport, accounts etc – works with little regard for the overall process or how they add value for the customer. This is reflected in the customers’ experience of dealing with the company, for example, they may have to speak with a range of different people at different stages of their order, and are unsure as to who that person is each time.
Multi-functional working could be an individual or a team which works with regard to the effect their part(s) of the process has on the workflow overall, and is therefore able to provide greater value to the customer and remove delays from the process.
Getting and keeping new sales can be tough, especially in difficult times, so a complementary way to drive profitability is adopting a lean approach, focused on customer value, improving quality, elimination of waste and empowerment of small teams.
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