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While lean thinking can trigger change, you're not going to reap the benefits until you translate ideas into every day practices PHOTO: Zabara Alexander

Organizations seeking to reduce the use of resources, eliminate waste, work smarter and improve efficiency have increasingly turned to lean techniques. 

Lean teams in particular enjoy the flexibility and creativity to develop new, smarter ways of doing things. But if you want a truly lean organization, you need to be able to quickly translate ideas into everyday practices. 

While ideas and improvements can trigger change, the real benefits are delivered with each and every interaction with your customers.

Lean thinking is all about understanding and maximizing customer value while minimizing the use of resources. When an organization truly understands the customer value proposition, it can focus on developing and enhancing its processes to more effectively achieve the desired outcomes. 

Along the way, the hunt for continual improvement encourages everyone, at all levels of the organization, to identify new ways to reduce resource usage, streamline workflow, and develop and deliver products faster, at a higher quality and a lower cost.

Lean Thinking Moves Beyond Its Roots

Lean thinking has expanded well beyond its manufacturing origins. Lean adherents can be found in private and public sector organizations across all kinds of industries, from information technology and health services to construction.

Organizations need to tap into the creative input of the people in the best position to offer constructive advice. This means encouraging those responsible for carrying out the work to come forward with new ideas.

Given the opportunity, teams find it relatively easy to critique existing processes, unearthing a wealth of ideas and potential improvements. The problem is that if after six months those ideas remain on Post It notes or exist as faded marks on a whiteboard, all the effort is wasted.

Turn Ideas Into Everyday Actions

The challenge is how to successfully transfer these ideas into the way we work. It’s easy to recall an email or a new document saved in the weeks after a process workshop, but a different challenge altogether to merge this into the fabric of how things are done.

Transferring these ideas into a knowledge base, a controlled library of valuable know-how, creates a cycle that ensures processes are not static within lean organizations. They become dynamic and can be managed as a living information asset.

4 Basic Rules of Dynamic Improvement Environments

Any organization establishing a dynamic process environment to support its lean methodologies follows these four basic rules:

1. Establish a solid process knowledge base

Create a go-to place for processes, somewhere everyone can quickly and easily access. 

Years ago, one of the most common presentations of the knowledge base was the three-ring binder. Management would issue an encyclopedic collection of processes, filed by every department, never to be referred to again. 

These days, teams expect to interact with processes the same way they do with a good website. Online and easily navigable, the modern process knowledge base provides a place for interaction, invention and ingenuity.

2. Encourage and develop process ownership

A process owner is someone directly engaged in the process, who leads the process and is, therefore, key to driving change. The process owner is in the box seat to identify and fix unwieldy processes. When properly empowered, they will collaborate with others across the business to enact wide-ranging, beneficial change.

3. Communicate processes in everyday language

When teams refer to a documented process, they rightly expect to be able to understand the information instantly. Encyclopedic formality might have been fine for the three-ring binder, but teams no longer accept information in this format. 

Searchable online databases are ideal when you want to keep the communication simple, accessible and immediate.

4. Recognize mistakes will be made and they are an opportunity to learn

When organizations become more agile, they soon discover that not every change is an improvement. Occasional mistakes invariably provide an opportunity to learn. This is part and parcel of the lean process.

Share the Knowledge to Support Change Management

The ability to encourage and uncover new ideas that add value and reduce waste is at the heart of lean methodologies. To create a lean organization, processes must be made accessible, usable and changeable.

Without a platform for managing and communicating processes, too many organizations have discovered just how difficult it can be to turn good ideas into everyday practice.