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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

3 Practices to Becoming an Agile and Lean Enterprise

About a month ago I was approached by a client asking to give advice regarding some organizational changes and major layoffs they were embarking upon. The client sent me an email with about six or seven different options to pursue to cut on their operating expenses.

I noticed that all the options were focused on eliminating employees. My question to myself, if eliminating employees seems the favorable and only approach that comes to mind, why were these employees present in the first place? There must have been a need for them in the organization, otherwise why were they hired in the first place? What operations will suffer when these folks are let go?

Many businesses fail to realize that a lot could be done way in advance to avoid shedding off employees. Letting go of your most valuable resources, your staff, should be the last thing to do, before closing shop. I list ten actions that can be done months before the crunch becomes severe to be forced to shut down.

1. Reduce non-valuable activities, a.k.a trivial work.
Non-valuable activities are those which your customers are not willing to pay for, they do not change the form or function of the product or service they are interested in. An example is rework, due to defects in a process used to produce the end product or service. Other examples are wait-time during the process. For example if you order a book online, you are willing to pay for the book to be shipped from the publisher to your location, you are interested in how much time it takes the book to wait at each regional hub for its next pickup. If there is a cost to the shipper to pay for the time spent at each shipping hub it will increase the cost of your book shipment and will not provide you any value. The only value you realize is the book being shipped to you as fast as possible. Instead of focusing on accelerating valuable processes, one should first eliminate non-valuable processes, as the effort of work will probably be less and the outcomes more effective.

Muslims also know non-valuable activities as "Lagow", an Arabic term mentioned in the Quran in several places, as deeds that have no benefit, or are a mere waste of time. These are deeds that keeps one's focus away from his purpose in life, which is the success in the hereafter.

Before improving valuable processes, it is important to get rid of as many non-valuable processes as possible. In the case of my client, they were focussing on products that yielded low profit margins, were difficult to market, promote and sell, and required large staffing and overhead.

2. Reduce waste
Waste is all around us in our activities. It is imperative that before we develop new processes to improve deficiencies we actually reduce waste as much as possible. Waste could be due to over production, excessive steps due to complexities of processes, queuing and idle time, defect correction and rework, poor organizational and planning processes, lack of controls and creativity stagnation.

Through some auditing and analysis it was found that my client had opportunities to reduce expenses of photocopying, utilities, rent and other non-valuable activities prior to let go of employees who were driving valuable activities for the end user.

3. Use facilitation to reduce cycle time and enhance efficiencies
A facilitator who is neutral to the different entities in your enterprise, and who has no authority or decision-making control, can bring tremendous value to your organization. The facilitator can apply collaboration concepts, systemic approaches and architectural thinking to decompose problems, address impacts in all areas of interest, and ensure a collaborative environment exists where the various team members can share ideas, brainstorm and foster creativity.

1 comment:

control valves said...

I couldn't agree more with you.