Lean for Small Businesses

If you have followed my blog for awhile you know that my wife started a hand-poured soap and bath and body business a few years ago.  One of her suppliers sends out a monthly newsletter with different kinds of articles: how to make new products, different recipes and in the most recent newsletter an article on lean for the small business.

Though turning to “lean” operation processes may sound like a complicated undertaking best left to large corporations, small businesses are actually ideally equipped to leverage the advantages of a lean business model.

The author is correct.  Being a small business makes it easier to create change more quickly as long as you are dedicated to it.

There are some good points in the article and some that are not even close.  I know lean is a the en vogue thing to discuss but that doesn’t mean everything is always a good point of view.  Better to have it mentioned and start a discussion though.

Some of the good.

You probably spend a lot of time in a day communicating with your clients, vendors, and staff. But have you ever taken a close look at why you have so many of those conversations? If the topics of your business conversations tend to involve a lot of the same questions, standardizing your operations could present a huge opportunity to save time, and eliminate such redundancies. Take detailed notes of the email and phone conversations

…get creative about how you might develop a standardized system for addressing such recurring issues. If customers tend to email or instant chat with similar questions, develop various email templates that you can send to them in a matter of seconds could prove a real time saver. Better yet, incorporate clear language onto your website that answers the questions so they donʼt even have to contact you.

I am more of the thought about trying to get to the root cause and better incorporate the clear language onto your website.  This is a clear way to help eliminate waste and create more time to serving your customers specific needs.

Dave Kerpin suggests that you can improve the efficiency of every [meeting] (and save 900 hours a year) with a simple shift: Donʼt end the discussion until everyone clearly understands their next steps, and you actually begin your own. Kerpin insists this eliminates the odds that miscommunication and confusion linger (which will only lead to further conversation), and reduces the amount of time youʼll spend trying to fi gure out how you need to move forward.

Dave is talking about getting high agreement on what will be done and how it will be done.  This is one of the core lean principles.  He is right.  It helps reduce confusion and communication that comes later from it so the work can be done more quickly.

Some of the not so good.

To adopt the common principles of lean management known as the 5 sʼs (Sort, Straighten, Sweep, Standardize, and Sustain), start by taking a look at your business routine…

This is a smaller issue in that 5S isn’t really a principle but more of a concept or tool to help highlight quickly when something is abnormal.  The author never mentions this.  Just that it can help “clean up” and organize your routine.

This is the one comment that truly gives me heartburn.  It shows the engrained misunderstanding of economies of scale.

If you find yourself ordering inventory frequently, could you forecast more appropriately, to reduce the frequency and possibly, realize cost savings from placing one larger order?

Oh where to start with this one.  First off, you can’t forecast “more appropriately”.  Overcomplicated MRP systems have shown that repeatedly. If you are a small business and growing this is no way to forecast more appropriately.  Understand your lead times and put in a visual reordering system that will trigger with enough time to get your orders in.  You may need to adjust over time as you grow, but it is more efficient and cost effective.

More importantly, don’t just order in bulk to get savings.  This is not a smart move.  You need to understand what your demand is, how much space you have, how much materials cost and how long the inventory would sit around.  If you order a larger quantity to get the savings but it takes 8 months to go through the inventory, you have tied up your cash so you can use it to grow in another area.  As a small business, cash flow is extremely important.  Another factor is the space you have.  If the material is going to take up a lot of space that you don’t have, it is better to not have it spilling over in your work area.  This is something to consider the long term savings in space and cash availability versus the immediate savings of a one time buy.

It was good to see lean talked about in a different arena besides manufacturing.  The message may not always be perfect but it is better to start the conversation than not have it at all.

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Posted on May 22, 2014, in Manufacturing, Waste and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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