Making LEAN Work for Every Business

by | April 5, 2015

Blog written by Michelle Bomberger, Equinox Business Law Group

Most people think Equinox is a law firm – but we treat it as a business first and a law firm second. The distinction I see is our desire to operate the company in a way that makes sense for all our stakeholders – specifically our owners, employees, and customers. To do so, we must understand the drivers of our business and recognize where we are inefficient or where errors may occur in our processes. This understanding is our first step toward building an organization focused on LEAN — but implementing LEAN is a much more challenging (and valuable) undertaking.

LEAN is intriguing for me as a business owner because it gets everyone involved. The goal is to have each person in the organization constantly seeking opportunities to eliminate “waste.” Waste includes defects, over processing, transportation, motion, waiting, excess inventory, and overproduction. Regardless of your business, it’s easy to see where these “wastes” appear in your business. If your accounts receivable department must wait for information from others in order to invoice, you have waste. If a document must be reviewed by multiple people before going out the door, you have waste. Once you start looking for it, you can find it everywhere!

One of the most challenging parts of LEAN implementation for small businesses is sticking with the system. It’s easy to find the opportunities for improvement and in some cases, it’s even easy to prioritize which one(s) will be tackled first. But figuring out what steps must be taken to eliminate the waste and continuously evaluating, prioritizing and implementing new systems is very difficult to sustain. I have found this to be true in our business for two reasons. First, as a small business, we have limited resources and client needs come first. This often pushes LEAN and other “administrative” initiatives to the back burner. I realize this effect is caused by lack of discipline and lack of accountability in implementing the changes – but there are only a certain number of hours in the day. The second reason is that people generally don’t like change, so it’s really tough to get folks on board to a system that emphasizes constant change. Even folks that understand the importance of LEAN and continuous improvement can struggle with the actual implementation of changes in their work environment.

There is a lot of literature about how running a business with clear goals and expectations results in higher profitability and customer satisfaction – most of us have read some of it. However, prioritizing LEAN is challenging. Buy-in, discipline and accountability are essential to success and from what I’ve heard, the effort and results are well worth it!