No Time for Lean

Make Time For Lean When No One “Has Time”


Make time for Lean everyday if you want to create a true continuous improvement culture. We’ve heard it a million times – this new idea can’t happen, because the team is already stretched too thin. Wait until things slow down a bit.

Lean is an idea that could actually free up more time for other projects. All it takes is a couple small successes to get the ball rolling.

Make time for Lean Everyday

  • Send fewer emails:Does the thought of fewer emails sound more like a pipe dream than a possibility? It might be a hard to believe, but we each have control over this one.
    • Reread your email before you send it and clarify anything that the reader may find confusing.
    • Anticipate key questions or information the reader seek out and include the answers in your email. For example, if you reference an article and you already have it pulled up on your computer, include the hyperlink in the email so your reader doesn’t have to spend time searching for it. This also eliminates the process of confirming that you’re looking at the same article.
    • Make the format easy to read: Use bullet points instead of paragraphs whenever possible, bold key lines to make them stand out, highlight important information like actions needed and deadlines.
  • Eliminate unnecessary meetings:If you host a weekly meeting and there’s a week when the agenda is light or non-urgent, cancel the meeting or shorten it.
  • Set a clear purpose for every meeting and stick to it:Use a “parking lot” to capture tangents for another time. A parking lot can be as simple as a flipchart or part of a whiteboard. The key is to do something with the content later so that people trust their concerns or ideas will be addressed.
  • Take breaks:Yes, take breaks. Rather than plowing through a tough project, break it up by going for a walk, stepping away from your desk to stretch, or doodling about a key aspect. (Doodling helps our brains synthesize information.) Even a five minute break can refresh you enough to regain the steam you might have lost.

Start Small to Have enough Time

Now that you’ve made a little wiggle room in your calendar and maybe other people’s calendars too, set aside a short amount of time to dip your toe in the deep ocean that is Lean. In an hour or less, you could try one of these.

  • Make a list:Bottlenecks you see, the most common processes, or the most hated processes.
  • Conduct a mini version of a time and motion study:Observe one person following one process and document what you see. This could become a rough process outline or SOP.
  • Evaluate a current SOP:Look for redundancies, missing steps, confusion, common mistakes and anything else that lets waste creep into that process.
  • Start on one of the 5S’s:Look at your workspace and Sort the items needed for your job from those you don’t need. Get rid of the things you don’t need. (Give them away, return them to the supply room, etc.) If you choose this one and share a workspace, be considerate of your teammates.

Tell a Friend

After you complete your chosen starter step, note what you learned, what’s different, what has improved, and what you’d like to do next. Then, tell someone about it. Share your success and encourage someone else to do something small. If you were able to make a big impact or discovery, consider telling the whole team. This success could also become part of the business case you create for doing a larger project.

Keep Going

The key to many things is to keep going. Whether you’re trying to write the next great novel, learn a new language or revolutionize how your organization works, you’ll need to keep going. Look for other processes to observe, take some time to brainstorm(on your own or with others) ways to improve those processes everyone dreads, or set aside some time to learn more about a basic Lean concept like 5S or Kanban.

Sell the Idea of Taking Bigger Action

One of the most impactful Lean tools is the Kaizen event (a.k.a. Rapid Improvement Event) and it’s a relatively straightforward way to take a bigger step into Lean. Once you’ve made some progress on your own, pitch the idea of a larger project. The goal of a Kaizen event is to make progress during the actual event. That’s a huge potential pay-off and it can go into the business case for the project you want to tackle. Kaizen isn’t just time away from business as usual. It makes an immediate impact.

  • Do your research and have strong reasons for why the team needs to step away from their regular work to participate.
  • Have data to show the value this project could create.
  • Clearly outline what you want the team to do (think who, what, where, when, why, and how).

Make the most of your Kaizen event by following these seven tips:

Don’t Take “No” for an Answer

When someone is telling you there isn’t enough time to implement Lean, they could be saying Lean is urgently needed and they just don’t know enough about how to get started. Nothing improves when we keep doing what we’ve always done. Look for ways to squeeze out even an hour a week to begin the process of improvement. Then, go from there. Keep track of your successes and observations. Add value others will notice and want more of. Soon, you’ll find selling the idea of Lean isn’t as difficult as it might have seemed.

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