Here’s the Wide-Format Pro’s Blueprint for Getting Leaner and Meaner
How implementing lean processes will build a culture of continuous improvement, ultimately leading to more sales.
“LEAN DOESN’T APPLY, to the wide-format digital print industry.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear it all the time: Lean doesn’t work for me – my industry is different. Well, you might be surprised to know your competition is outcompeting or even crushing your business right now. Do you know why? Because they didn’t give the same answer. They thought, “Wow – this stuff makes sense.”
Simply put, Lean businesses continuously find small ways to improve and cut waste to create more value. Lean makes sense in every industry, and it’s easy to benefit from. It doesn’t matter how big or how small your company is, and it doesn’t require bringing in consultants or trainers to make it happen. Why?
Because more than anything, Lean is really about people – your employees. It’s about having a culture that empowers people to make changes, to fix what bugs them, and to make their jobs easier – and celebrates and rewards them for doing so. The byproduct of focusing on growing people and building a culture of continuous improvement will be more efficiency and better quality, leading to higher sales with higher profit margins, as well as happier employees who enjoy work.
Lean is all about continuous improvement: everyone, every day, making something better. It can be as easy as adding a label so supplies are always in the right place, moving a tool so it’s closer to the point of use, or color coding something to avoid having to go back and check the sizing. It can be as simple as committing to a goal to make one improvement, every single day, that will save you at least two seconds every time you use it, or reduce some other form of waste by a miniscule percentage each time a process runs.
Everything you do in life is a process, and every process can always be improved. Waste is everywhere around you – you just have to learn to see it. (Consider the actual waste of unused media, the variation in process that leads to mistakes, machines running less efficiently due to overdue maintenance, etc.) Imagine if you could accomplish every single thing with the same results every day, but it took you half the time. Well, that may indeed be possible in your operation if everybody makes small improvements every day, and you foster an environment in which those improvements will accumulate over time. When people start looking for waste and small easy improvements, and make those improvements every day, then bigger, more audacious goals for improvement start to make themselves obvious.
This may all sound great, but taking the first step can be the most daunting task – especially when you don’t know where to go. So, let’s outline those first steps. Of course, every business in every industry is different, and the solutions that work for me or your friend across the street are not going to be the exact solutions that work for you – but the culture will work anywhere. This can be applied to banks, schools, government, even the DMV – anyone who can start with these simple steps and keep going in this direction will experience huge benefits. For that first step, let’s head toward your restrooms.
IT STARTS IN
Everything you do – yes, absolutely everything – is a process, including cleaning the restroom. This is a great place to start learning Lean concepts and building a culture of Lean improvement. There are two basic steps to being able to make an improvement:
- Create a standard operating procedure (SOP) and train everyone to do the same process.
- Improve upon that process.
Everyone has cleaned a restroom in their life, so everyone will tell you they know how to do it. This is why it’s a great place to start practicing an exact SOP and getting everyone to follow it. If people can’t follow a standard of how to clean a restroom, how can you trust them to follow an SOP of how to print, package, or ship products? Starting in the bathroom also builds a sense of respect and responsibility. People will be more respectful when they use it, and it will start to open their eyes to other things in the building that need to be cared for. Once you have learned to create a standard and taught people to follow it, you can start creating standards for all your processes – and it will feel easy.
Having standard processes creates a lot of benefits beyond the immediate reduction in waste or increases in efficiency. First off, standardizing a process reduces variation – a huge creator of waste. Variation in how something is done creates inconsistency in how a workspace should be laid out, making it impossible to build an efficient area. Variation in process also results in variation in the final result – either defects, or best case, it looks to your customers like you have no idea what you’re doing. Second, it makes it easy to train people on processes when there is a standard that is recorded and clear. SOPs can be documented with pictures and words using Microsoft Office to create a process sheet, or shooting a video of the process and generating a QR code to access the video.
Have a morning meeting, every morning, with everyone. It doesn’t have to be long – as with everything in a culture of constant improvement, expect it to change over time – but implement one. It’s a huge investment, but one that will pay dividends. A daily standing meeting is where you can start growing people and a culture. More importantly, it’s a place to teach and train people. This is the most important thing for any company to move forward.
Use these meetings to teach Lean concepts. Good starting points include the Eight Deadly Sins of Waste, Deming’s 14 Points, and Taiichi Ohno’s 10 Precepts. Use these meetings to review the eight wastes every day with the entire company. Go over company principles you will develop along the way, such as what qualifies as an improvement; this might be something like benefiting safety, quality, simplicity, or speed. As a result, every employee is fully trained to find waste, and eliminate it.
I highly recommend going over a few peoples’ improvements every morning and celebrating what the staff has accomplished as a group, rewarding Lean improvements by recognizing people and publicly telling them what a good job they’re doing. This builds a craving for improvement. Nothing is so motivating as public praise.
None of this could be accomplished anywhere near as effectively without a morning meeting, every morning. Most importantly, it gets everybody involved in the Lean culture. If you want to enjoy the benefits of a true Lean culture, a morning (or start-of-shift) meeting is a must.
LISTEN TO YOUR STAFF
A lot of companies that try to go Lean do it without getting the entire staff involved. They put together a Lean team whose job it is to find and implement improvements – a group of people who are not the ones doing the actual work. This is a great way to spend a lot of money with little chance of actually creating a Lean culture. What can easily happen with this model is the Lean team comes into an area, does a “kaizen” event or workshop to improve a process, and implements all the changes they brainstormed without ever consulting the workers. In that case, when the actual workers come back to use their newly changed work area, they’re likely to hate it. They don’t know where anything is, they don’t like a lot of the ideas that were changed, and they won’t feel respected or celebrated. As a result, they’re likely to be questioning and second-guessing everything that changed while wondering why the things that actually bothered them and created real waste were not adequately addressed. It tends to create needless rifts, where the Lean team thinks they’re the bee’s knees but are hated by everyone else – who incidentally now like their jobs a lot less.
This model can take a company backward. In the end, it will likely cost more to have this Lean team, whose cost is supposed to be offset by more efficient work and happier workers. In reality, their presence creates unhappy workers who don’t benefit much from the improvements and who continue to struggle with waste they could easily eliminate on their own. Worse yet, it may also demoralize the local management team who may feel compelled to sing the company song about the new Lean program to their direct reports while not having any real buy-in because they find their own input is also not sufficiently valued.
The best ideas come from the people on the shop floor who are doing the work. Let them use their brains.
If you want to be competitive, you must make time to improve. I hear it all the time: “We’re too busy – we don’t have time to improve every day.” Again, that’s the attitude that lets your competitors walk all over you. If you make the time to improve, it will save time, and then you will have the time to improve – so make the time.
I like to use the analogy of someone trying to put a bunch of nails in a piece of wood using the tool he has always used: a rock. It’s obviously slow and doesn’t work well, so of course he feels he doesn’t have the time to stop and try to improve his process – he just needs to get the work done. Someone could even walk up, hand him a hammer, and say, “Hey, try this,” and he would probably be so stressed about how much he had to do that he would wave them away and say, “No, I don’t have time to try your dumb device. I need to get this job done – leave me alone.” Don’t be the rock guy. There is always a better way to do everything you’re doing; you just need to stop and take the time to use your brain and improve the process.
What this looks like will be different for everyone. Whether it be half an hour at the beginning or end of every day where people are paid to make improvements, or a more open format where people are encouraged to stop work for a set amount of time to make an improvement at any point during the day, you must give the people doing the work the time to use their training to make the process of how they do their work better.
If people get to make their own improvements, they take pride in them. They come to work and enjoy the benefits of the improvement and feel good about doing it. They now have more time to make more improvements. Then they go home and find ways to make improvements there, like saving time on chores, so they have more free time at home. Now you have a company full of happy employees, who want to keep using their brains as well as work hard, enjoying how much easier it is now than it used to be – and that is a Lean culture. The byproduct is more efficiency and better quality, leading to higher sales with higher profit margins.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
There are thousands of pages of text that detail a plethora of “Lean tools” to learn and try to implement if you want to “be Lean.” Enough to make your head spin and make it easy to say, “This isn’t for me” or “My company doesn’t have time for this.” While these academic tools are great resources to try out one at a time years into your Lean journey, they’re not the core of creating a Lean culture. In fact, they’re a bunch of tools that take hours of your time, tend to complicate processes, and alienate employees. Lean is about simplicity. If you keep it simple, there’s a much greater chance of people understanding and implementing the ideas.
Don’t hire a Lean consultant or trainer who complicates everything, alienates people, and costs you a ton of money. Don’t hire a Lean team that changes people’s work area for them, making them hate the idea of Lean and improvements. Instead, focus on growing and training people to use their brains and be the best they can be. Foster a positive culture of continuous improvement. Start Lean in the bathroom by creating standard processes and training. Have a morning meeting every day with everyone and coach them on how to see waste. Give everyone paid time to make improvements to their own work areas and praise their creativity. By following these simple steps, you will end up with not only higher sales and profit margins, but also a company full of happy employees that attracts the highest quality people to want to come work with you.
Read what the Brain Squad has to say about Lean manufacturing in their businesses at bigpicturemag.com/lean.
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