Partners in Business Excellence, LLC

Business Process Management

Why It’s Never Been More Important to be Lean than During/Post COVID

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COVID-19 has taught us in business quite a bit about agility, emergency preparedness, and the importance of processes. We have learned what matters, how to make shifts in the face of restrictive ordinances, and decision-making under extreme pressure. 

We’ve seen businesses close as they couldn’t manage change, while others thrived. Never before has being efficient been so relevant, and necessary. Those who grew during this time may now be facing a decrease and are planning to adjust once again. As restrictions are lifted, others may be looking at adapting to a new normal. Processes and change management have become a focus. 

For me, these have always been a primary objective. What do processes look like, what are they producing, and how can we improve efficiency? 

Lean Operations for Emergencies 

Emergency situations often reveal the holes in our processes. This is often why organizations, such as schools, run mock drills to test their effectiveness. Those regular drills help teachers prepare for fires, storms, and other dangers. 

Similarly, I look at processes so that when emergencies happen, we know where the holes are. The additional benefit is that when there isn’t an emergency, processes run smoother and more efficiently. 

Understanding processes and closing efficiency gaps allows management to make better decisions under pressure. They also are more agile because they understand the full workflow and can anticipate the waterfall effect of problems at any point of the flow. 

Lean Inventory During Shortages/ Delays 

Inventory should be an asset, not a waste of money. Managing appropriate levels of inventory and having a grasp on supply chain is key. How did this last year impact production in regards to inventory? Did it run smoothly, or did it stall? Did product design or workflows change in response? Did deadlines and shipping meet expectations? 

Visual inventory management, min/max ordering and other tools can be implemented to support the best possible outcomes to maximize floor space and reduce cold inventory. Understanding and preparing for inventory issues ultimately impacts profitability. 

Supply chain interruptions were incredibly disruptive during COVID and taught us a bit more about how to be prepared and shift when we can’t get standard supplies. 

Lean Staffing in the Midst of Change 

In the face of COVID, some employees are anxiously looking to return to positions. Others, like teachers and waitstaff, may chose other career paths, possibly permanently. Until we are back to a full reopening, it’s hard to know what staffing demands will look like. 

HR managers will have their hands full managing this changing dynamic and the secret to success is found in the process. Not only will managing the paperwork and policy management be critical, but training staff to get them fully productive will be important. 

The better the processes, the less important the employee’s beginning skill set is. Hiring the right people and teaching them the required skills will be a key in rebuilding staff as the country reopens.

A Little Reflection 

How did your processes hold up this last year? Did it reveal some holes that could use patching? Are you preparing for the new normal to come? Do you need support in building processes to support the coming changes? How can I help? 

 

PBEX, LLC is a lean consulting firm specializing in uncovering the holes in organizational processes that result in loss of any kind. We start with a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more and to schedule your review with a lean consultant.   

 

Is Over Promising, Under Delivering a Good Business Strategy?

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Photo by Benjamin Smith on Unsplash

In business strategy and theory there is a concept of under promising and over delivering. This means the business strategy is built on doing more than the customer expects. Some examples of this include telling the customer their product will ship on Wednesday when you know it will ship on Monday. Or, it could be including an extra pair of socks in an order of 6 when the customer wasn’t expecting it. 

This strategy brings up several points that are sound and one that isn’t. Let’s take a look. 

Great Business Strategy: Setting Customer Expectations 

If you know there is no way you are going to be able to ship the product on Wednesday, and yet you tell the customer that so they will be happy, it isn’t an effective business strategy. It may buy you time before they are calling back upset, but really, that is just delaying the inevitable. 

The main problem is that it isn’t based on customer satisfaction. This is actually overcommitting and under delivering– a surefire way to unhappy customers. 

Instead, commit to something realistic for when life happens- for example, there’s a delay in the supply chain, a key employee is out sick, or changes need to be made to the product before it can ship. Communicating a time range, rather than a specific date, allows for potential problems to be addressed while still meeting customer expectations. 

Another Great Solution: Trumpeted and Surprised Bonuses 

Some companies lay out specific rewards they are giving customers – these are “trumpeted”. When an auto dealership announces they will give to a charity for every purchase, this is an example. When you get a free gift with purchase as a bonus and you weren’t aware of it, it’s a surprise. One company I knew gave client gifts after they spent a certain dollar amount with the company, but the clients weren’t aware of that until the gift actually arrived. 

These are both great ways to over deliver and create customer delight and in essence under promise and over deliver. This could lead to direct referrals or free word of mouth, especially if the happy customer takes to social media with your above and beyond gesture. And, above and beyond gestures are a long-term business strategy that is proactive, rather than reactive.

A Poor Business Strategy: Unrealistically Over Committing 

Setting goals to making promises that are unrealistic or unachievable will backfire. It can be damaging to the organization’s reputation as well as staff self-confidence. Eventually, customers will start to learn your organization doesn’t follow through on promises. 

Bottom line, if you can’t do it consistently, you aren’t creating a good customer experience. Rather than over or under promising, find ways to build processes that lead to consistent products, services, delivery and communication – together these create a winning business strategy for long-term growth.

 

PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Whether you need help building consistency in delivery, or closing gaps, we can help. Providing lean consulting and training, we are ready to support your organizational goals. Contact us today to learn more about lean business management and to schedule your review with a lean sensei focused on business strategy. 

Inventory Management: Jumping Over Dollars For Dimes

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A few years ago, I encountered a business owner who had recently acquired a company that was going out of business after 15 years. Part of the purchase included materials, some of which were also 15 years old. This acquisition also meant merging the owner’s two companies, each with their own property, into one larger space. 

The owner planned the build out on the new, bigger property, but he was so anxious to turn the abundance of new raw materials into product, he became blind to other areas that needed attention. 

“This happens a lot in life – we get so focused on something, we neglect others. In business, this often looks like jumping over dollars for dimes.” 

Space was made to house significant inventory, which reduced space for other areas, such as production and offices. However, when we looked at the inventory, we found most of it wasn’t useable, and could be sold, trashed or recycled. Doing this freed up significant space that allowed for significantly more floor space, allowing for greater future expansion. We used lean inventory management tools to help us determine what really was needed and usable and what was waste.

Lean Inventory Management

We can’t get blindsided by the desire to make money at the cost of the team that helps us create it. We can’t be so eager for dimes that we jump over dollars to get to them. Instead, we should be looking at everything in our businesses as: Does it make money or cost money? 

The goal of lean inventory management is to eliminate or reduce things that cost money and increase those which make it. Sometimes that is really clear – like eliminating dead inventory. Other times, it’s harder to see, like investing in sufficient office space for workers. Either way, an outside observer can see these blind spots and help navigate effective and efficient change, reducing long-term costs. 

My role as a Lean consultant includes not only seeing the blind spots, but also seeking understanding to the systems of the business to discover and close gaps. Not only do I look for these inefficiencies, I lead management with tools that help them with continuous improvement so they can find and solve issues as they come up – or even before they come up. 

My objective eye prevents businesses from jumping over dollars for dimes, and when cash flow matters, that’s an important perspective to have. If you are struggling with inventory management and want to get lean, PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Providing consulting and lean process improvement training, we are ready to support your organizational goals. Contact us today to learn more about lean business management and to schedule your review with a lean consultant.   

 

Using a Feedback Loop for Better Productivity 

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I work primarily in the manufacturing industry, helping them with lean methodology to improve efficiency and decrease waste. Inevitably when I am called in to help, management thinks the main problems stem from the production floor – if only they could increase production, all the problems will resolve. 

I listen and then go right to the front office, because what they do impacts the rest. We have to start at the beginning of the process. If order taking isn’t done correctly, it doesn’t matter how efficient the production team is. 

If we use the analogy of building a house, the front office is the foundation. You could hire the best contractors in each of their respective trades and skill levels, yet if the foundation isn’t good, the home will have issues. All the repairs made to the house would simply be temporary fixes, and they’d add up over time. Fixing the foundation is the only solution, and fixing it after the house is built, is the most expensive repair to make. 

In business, in order to make sure the foundation and structure is correct, a feedback loop or loops should be put in place. A feedback loop is simply a process that purposefully gathers information to be used for improvements. 

“A feedback loop can be customer or employee focused but the goal is the same: continuous improvement.”

Productivity and feedback loops go hand in hand because in order to solve issues with decreased production, we have to look at the system as a whole. We need to gather information, and continue to gather information, in order to discover the underlying issue. 

Let’s use a client example: 

I had a client in the service industry who was struggling with low production. They hired more staff to solve the problem, but were facing the same issue, just with more people. Management felt that if technicians could complete more jobs in a day, revenue would increase, but they couldn’t figure out how to motivate them to do so. 

When I talked to the field technicians, they felt if they had more streamlined routes, they could produce more. As usual, frontline staff and management were blaming each other, creating a cycle of under-productivity. This was our first feedback loop – gathering information from staff.

We used an internal feedback loop to hear from employees what problems they were seeing. We also used a customer feedback loop to find out what was and wasn’t working regarding their service. Most customers were happy, but the ones that weren’t had a theme: the field technicians weren’t showing up when the office said they would. 

When I sat with the order takers, I discovered they weren’t notating the arrival window the customer needed in their notes. This meant technicians were arriving too early, or too late, resulting in a “no job” or reschedule. This important part of the process fell through the cracks when a software change happened, changing the order takers’ input process. 

Ultimately, the issue wasn’t with the production team, but those taking the orders. This created a domino effect that resulted in lower productivity. Without a feedback loop, the company was working to fix the problem they thought they hadrather than the real problem. 

Resolving the real problem increased productivity, improved customer satisfaction, and reduced employee frustration. That’s the power of a feedback loop! 

If you are ready to be proactive, or have found some process holes that need to be filled, that’s my expertise. PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more. 

Supply Chain Interruptions and Inventory Management in Crisis

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image of empty pallets

Sometimes it takes a global pandemic to reveal holes in our business processes. Some industries have felt the sting of supply chain interruptions and inventory management.Did you run out of supplies? Did a supplier shut down? Was the demand placed on your business increased or decreased?

Likely, your business faced some sort of change in these recent events, and while it is (hopefully) unlikely we will face anything of this magnitude again in the next hundred years, being prepared for disasters needs to be a part of our business plans. 

Lean Methodology in Times of Crisis 

Lean methodology looks to eliminate waste and improve efficiency – it is the opposite of hoarding. However, that doesn’t mean prudent supplies aren’t on hand. Using a visual inventory method, we make it easy to know when to restock – but what if your supplier suddenly goes under? Whether from a natural or man-made disaster, businesses have seen this happen for decades. 

While developing process maps, it is the role of a Lean Consultant to look at all areas where there could be disruption that creates inefficiency. When done well, we overcome these obstacles proactively. Of course, no one can predict the future or prepare for every possible outcome, but strategic planning around the most likely potential problems helps us resolve most of them, or at least allows us to have some agility in the face of crisis. 

The Case of Envelopes 

In one specific organization I worked with, there was a supply chain issue that was causing company-wide problems. It was an issue with semi-custom envelopes and a replacement couldn’t be found. These envelopes were used for sending out a uniquely large invoice, and because of this, invoices stopped going out, causing cash flow issues. 

We looked at alternates for envelopes and found a solution that saved money on both envelopes and invoices. Because this was a reactive fix, it took some time to implement, however, we were able to adjust and smooth into a new process. 

Being Proactive to Avoid Supply Chain Interruptions

Instead of being reactive, a proactive approach could have anticipated a supply chain disruption and allowed us to make changes to avoid or lessen the impact. The only way to really be proactive is to audit current processes and examine where there are potential problems, and then stay on top of those with a continuous improvement mindset. 

Looking at processes deeply helps us to understand where we currently are and what adjustments need to be made if, all of a sudden, demands increase or decrease. It allows us to make changes quickly to capture opportunities, rather than fail as we slip into holes we didn’t know existed. 

Change will always happen in business. Whether large or barely significant, they can give us space for improvement if we are open to learning. 

 

If you are ready to be proactive, or have found some holes now that need to be filled, that’s my expertise. PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more. 

Does Your Business Have an Emergency Plan in Place? 

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Reading the news on any given day can create fear of the next big thing for us to be concerned about. Terrorist attacks, virus spread, natural disasters, workplace violence, and more can all be unsettling. While there is no possible way to plan for everything, having an emergency plan in place, and the ability to be agile and adjust, are very important. 

The better documented and managed your current processes are, the easier it will be to make adjustments in order to keep things moving as seamlessly as possible. 

When an emergency hits, your physical office could be shut down, supplies could be limited, income could slow or boom, demand could become higher than you can keep up with, and communication needs are heightened. A business crisis plan lays out actions to take in case of such an emergency.

How to Create an Emergency Plan

First, start by documenting processes. What are you currently doing and who is doing it? What is required for each worker to do their job? What supplies or equipment is needed? Identify your mission critical tasks and what is required for them to function. 

Second, take note of your risks. What part of your processes are at risk? For example, do all supplies come from one chain? Consider what natural or man-made disasters the company may face. For example, if tornadoes are more prevalent in your area than a tsunami, you may want to make a plan for that and not others. Start with the highest risk first. 

Third, create an emergency management plan. Create a plan for chain-of-command and expedited decision-making. Create a communication tree so information can be quickly spread to those who need it most. 

Fourth, build your emergency plan. Decide who needs to be part of building your emergency plan and meet to do so. Consider supplies needed for both evacuation and taking shelter. Determine how to communicate the plan to employees, customers and vendors. 

Document your plan and let people know how to access it. If relevant, keep disaster sheets in appropriate areas for quick access, such as near specific equipment or safety areas. Some organizations keep emergency supplies in specific places throughout the building. Be sure these are marked and accessible. 

Finally, practice and reassess. Once your plan is in place, consider practicing it to work out any bugs and find any gaps in protocol. Plan for times to re-evaluate the emergency plan to update it for changes in business processes or new threats or risks. 

 

Uncertain times will ebb and flow, so having an emergency action plan in place will help you move forward during these times with more ease. It all starts with identifying your needs and documenting your processes, which is exactly what I have expertise in. Schedule today to begin a conversation about your emergency plan. 

Business Process Modeling for Improved Results

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business process modeling

Psychologist Howard Gardener wrote in his book “Frames of Mind” about 9 types of intelligence. The theory showed us that people can excel in certain areas more than others, and that intelligence isn’t limited to just ‘book smarts’, science, or math. 

This is exciting news because it frees those of us who may not have been good in a particular subject in school from feeling generally stupid. We can now focus on the areas of intelligence where we do excel, and find others to support us in those we aren’t as strong. 

For some, processes come easily, while others over generalize them and then wonder what isn’t working. Often what I find is that people become blind to challenges or problems because they lack perspective. 

How Business Process Modeling Improves Results 

Business Process Modeling helps to overcome this blindness and can further utilize a variety of intelligence in order to improve outcomes. Let me offer an example: 

ABC Manufacturing wants to hire workers who will perform one of five tasks. They need to know their own roles, but also how it fits into the bigger picture. They also need to perform it to a required standard and consistency. 

Using a Business Process Modeling strategy, each position can be mapped in a way to allow every worker to be trained to meet the performance goals and expectations, breaking it down in ways that every person can understand to be set up for success. It also allows each worker to see how the flow of work matters to the whole. 

Furthermore, it helps everyone see how or why bottlenecks can occur and how to adjust for these possibilities if they arise. It gives management to front line the opportunity to discover holes that can lead to waste in time, talent, and materials, and make proactive changes towards greater efficiency. 

My Intelligence is Business Process Improvement

My intelligence, as a business consulting firm specializing in Lean, is in logical-mathematical and spatial understanding. I use tools such as business process modeling to help unearth areas of waste and inefficiency and adjust them for long-lasting and continuous improvement. 

We implement change that positively impacts the bottom line of companies that hire and train, provide a consistent product or service, and who are looking to improve efficiency, production and outcomes. We do this with a number of tools, including business process modeling. 

 

PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more about how a lean consultant can help you, and to schedule your organizational audit with a business process improvement expert. 

Does Your Business Want to Learn to Fish with a Lean Sensei?

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image of someone fishing

Along with personal New Year’s Resolutions, there are also business ones. We often spend time each year reflecting on our numbers and then come up with strategies to improve them. For some, improving numbers means increasing sales or efficiency. For others, it means reducing accidents (and insurance claims) or inventory waste.

These needed changes are often discussed over boardroom tables, and other times are given as directives from upper management. Unfortunately, just like personal resolutions, business goals can start strong and then lose ground, sometimes ending up in a position worse than where they started. This is when consultants are often called in.

The Problem with Consultants

Consultants, with a wide variety of specialties, are often called in to help management fix a specific problem they are having. This is like hiring a personal trainer when your goal is to increase your fitness levels. The consultant or trainer takes some background information and starting metrics and then prescribes an action plan.

You then implement that plan, along with accountability from the consultant. While the accountability is in place and you continue to implement the plan, goals materialize. Everyone celebrates! However, too often, once the accountability is gone, there is a sliding back, or even a maladaptive behavior, and this creates a bigger problem than what you started with.

When someone from outside the business comes in, they bring with them the benefit of a fresh perspective, but, if they only give a solution, without really understanding the problem, they will create a bigger fish to fry.

Learning to Fish

Lean consultants often carry the title of Sensei. They do this because unlike consultants, who show up, solve a problem and leave, they look for the root cause of the problem to begin with. A lean sensei doesn’t simply offer a quick fix, but rather seeks knowledge. They don’t look for the “fish” that will solve a problem, temporarily changing results, and celebrating prematurely. Instead, they learn about the lake that is the business at hand, the fish that occupy that lake, and the best bait to use.

When a lean sensei works with a business, they seek to understand how holes got into the systems and lead management into processes that help them discover and solve those on their own. This way teaches managers concepts they can use going forward, rather than giving them a single solution. Instead of a fish, a lean sensei teaches the business how to fish.

 

PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Providing consulting and lean process improvement training, we are ready to support your organizational goals. Contact us today to learn more about lean business management and to schedule your review with a lean sensei.

 

Are You Fixing Problems or Solving Them?

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Have you ever been to Qdoba? It’s a casual dining restaurant featuring Mexican food. The other day I was there and watched a particular employee wipe down tables and chairs after diners left. He had a smile on his face as he did his work. That was until he got to the trashcan.

He wiped the area clean and looked into the trash bin opening and frowned, throwing his towel down. He fiercely opened the cabinet and pulled out the trash can and reached in, pulling out several silver trays – these trays are how the delicious Qdoba food is served.

He slammed the trashcan back into place, threw the dirty trays into his busboy dish tub and marched to the back. A few minutes later, he returned with a sign – handwritten in thick black marker the words, “Don’t Throw Away the Trays”.

How long do you think this solution lasted? I know for one, I personally didn’t throw my tray in the trash. But was it a complete solution? What else could be done to solve the problem, rather than just apply a temporary fix?

Fix Versus Solve

Fixing a problem is usually quite quick. Someone seems a problem and creates a knee jerk reaction to fix it. It takes into consideration a limited scope of information. In the above case, the busboy, while ambitious, used only his perspective to determine the problem and a fix. You likely know that Qdoba is a chain restaurant – did the busboy’s sign fix the problem of disposed trays at any other location? What was this problem causing other franchisors? Was this a problem worth solving?

Solving a problem, on the other hand, looks at the bigger picture to get to the root cause. It takes in more perspectives to find a long-term solution. In fact, when I meet with companies who have a big problem to solve, there is quite a large impact on their bottom line and just a fix won’t do.

Making it Hard to Fail

When we look at creating a solution, we look to create one that is mistake proof. We make the process SO easy, that it is hard to do wrong. We set people up for success. Lean isn’t the only process that does this though – think about some of the solutions you’ve seen in everyday life to help us, and others, not fail:

  • When a waitperson brings a diet soda with two straws to indicate it is diet
  • When we try to start a car when it’s not in park
  • When you can’t push ‘start’ on your microwave unless the door is closed

Solutions don’t need to be complicated, they just need to allow little to no room for error. Companies who think about processes and how to make them foolproof, rather than just letting them happen, are more successful.

Now, Back to Our Story

The above story about Qdoba is something I made up, but it paints an important picture. To solve the problem, they made the opening to the trash can too small for the silver trays to fit. They also placed a label on the shelf above the trash that clearly, and kindly requested that all silver trays be returned to that spot. This made it fool proof. If a patron tried to throw away a tray, it simply couldn’t be done. It would also trigger them to take another action, such as placing it on the clearly marked shelf, or, in the worst-case scenario, setting it back on the table where they ate. Either way, this which allowed the busboy to pick it the trays up, rather than dig through the trash for them. Problem solved!

 

PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more about lean business management and to schedule your review with a process improvement and automation expert and start solving problems, rather than just fixing them.

Is Storing Cold Inventory Costing You More Than Replacing It Would? 

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5S Organization

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As a Lean Consultant, one of the tools I use is the 5S Organization System which is particularly helpful when it comes to reclaiming space. In fact, storage issues are a big reason I am called into organizations. They need more floor space… they are moving into a new space… they realize they have dead inventory and don’t know what to do about it.  Often when I go into businesses, I discover they have become “blind” to the things they are storing that they don’t need. In some of these cases, this storage costs more than replacing the actual supplies being stored. 

This can happen when the parts become obsolete, or there is no process in place to handle these supplies, either in inventory, scraps, returns, or defect management. This happens a lot in Research and Development, in Engineering, and with business founders. In fact, business owner have a tendency to store personal items on property, creating a problem with space, but that’s a topic for another article. Today, we will address the 5S Organization System. 

5S Organization 

The 5S Organization System is part of Lean Methodology and consists of the components: 1. Sort, 2. Set in Order, 3. Shine, 4. Standardize, and 5. Sustain. Some companies choose to add a 6th S: Safety. Overall, this process helps organizations increase floor space, reduce costs, create a safer working environment, and increase productivity. 

Sort. This is the first step and its where we go through all the equipment, supplies, and tools in an area and sort based on who needs it, for what purpose, and frequency of use. We take into consideration the value of the items and the best location for them – which may include the dumpster, storage, donations, or even re-purposed in another area. 

Set in Order. After sorting and moving items out of a space, we then process the remaining assets. Logical arrangements are made to allow access to the right equipment, supplies and tools by the right people at the right times. Organizational systems such as bins, hooks, shelves or files may be used to reduce chaos. 

Overall processes may be examined to determine the best flow and to discover holes that would cause this problem to resurface. Care is taken to not create additional waste, which includes wasting time and resources. 

Shine. Shine refers to cleaning up the area. Often when items are stored for long periods of time, dust and debris can build up. But Shine isn’t just a one-time project. Shine puts systems in place for continuous organization and cleanliness of the area to prevent future equipment failure, inventory overstock or neglect. 

Standardize. Where Shine may feel janitorial or maintenance focused, Standardize addresses the root cause of the disorganization so it can be addressed proactively as much as possible. It creates processes, schedules, diagrams, task lists and more to create a culture and system of organization. 

Sustain. Sustain brings the organization into the future, keeping the changes in place. It keeps the fix from being a temporary solution. Anytime a new system or process is implemented, it will take time to get used to. After time, it can start to morph, so “checking in” with the process is a part of Sustain to make course corrections, or adapt the shifts for increasing efficiency. 

A Real World Example 

I was called into a company who was moving into a new space because they had too much “stuff” and needed help sorting so they knew where to move everything into the new space. We used the 5S Organization System for this project, as it was the best solution. While sorting, we came across three boxes that had the original tape from when they were shipped, 4 years prior. When I asked what they were, no one knew. So, we opened them. We looked into the boxes and I asked, “Do we need these?” 

The response I received was, “Well, I’m sure we do.” 

We asked around and discovered the boxes were holding supplies for a project that had been abandoned 3 years earlier. We kept going through boxes, determining what could be sold, donated, re-purposed or trashed. We ended up filling two dumpsters. Had they done the process prior to making the decision to move, they may not have needed to. 

 

PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more about lean business management and the multiple tools, including 5S Organization, and to schedule your review with a process improvement and automation expert.