The first thing to understand about a lean business is that fundamentally, it is not just about a cost-saving, or is it a short-term manufacturing goal for a zero-waste bent to please the environmentalist customers you may have. It is about a method of thinking that should govern all processes and operations in the company, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. It was first implemented by Toyota and Henry Ford to create streamlined manufacturing that promoted quality and efficiency and reduced waste. Of course, these objectives directly influence inventory stock control as well as being influenced themselves by inventory management. It is indeed all part of a manufacturing cycle. So, let us take a closer look at the attributes of a lean business and how they might be achieved.
A lean business understands that the customer should be the focus for everything. Without happy customers purchasing your product, there are no sales which means there is no income. A lean business recognises that every aspect of what they do, even down to ensuring the carpets are clean for visiting clients, will impact the customer and their experience of the company.
Live and breathe the business
A lean organisation ensures that every employee, regardless of their role, understands and promotes the company values. They do this by ensuring there is a culture where every employee feels part of the team and that their time and effort is valued. In doing so, employees feel empowered and enjoy their work, which culminates in a team of people that work hard to achieve the company objectives. Unfortunately, many employers make the mistake of thinking they can achieve this outcome by ‘cracking the whip’ and forcing employees to add more value to their work with no corresponding gratitude or respect. This creates dissatisfaction which only achieves the opposite result of what is desired. Value your employees, you cannot conduct business without them.
Kaizen refers to the method of thinking that promotes continuous improvement and is a key component of a lean business. The company, no matter how successful, must always be looking for opportunities to improve and recognise that there will always be areas that can be done better. To think in this manner, the company must be humble and foster humility in its staff.
Lean businesses promote collaboration and cross-training amongst employees. No person operates alone, they must function well as part of the team and seek to incorporate everyone’s talents and skills for team success.
Lean business is about ditching the micromanagement and focussing on perfecting the system or process rather than the product. If a manager is to only focus on the quality of the product at the end, which is indicative of the process and how well it has been carried out, they act to empower employees to worry about how they are carrying out the process and that they are doing the best the possibly can do. A helicopter manager who inspects every product themselves and has a hand in everything does not actually do the company or the employees any favours and in fact can instigate worthlessness and disrespect in the staff.
Relationship to inventory management
Inventory management has a very significant effect on lean manufacturing because if the warehouse is disorganised and excess stock is sitting around unused, then a huge amount of waste is created which utilises time and resources for its disposal with a corresponding loss of revenue. On the other hand, if not enough inventory stock is available, then the manufacturing team cannot continue with their tasks which creates time wastage and under-utilisation of equipment waiting for new inventory stock to arrive.
Where to next for your lean business?
The first step to building a lean business is understanding what it is and acknowledging the need for lean manufacturing and total quality management principles in your company. Following this, it is a matter of implementing systems that promote these objectives and sharing and encouraging your passion for a lean business in your staff.