Eliminate Waste with a Lean Business Model

Lean Manufacturing, Production Improvement

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.” 

– Shigeo Shingo

When you think of “running lean,” what comes to mind?

For many entrepreneurs, running lean means producing great results on a shoestring budget. Traditionally, being “lean” has meant doing more with less. Lean business models are all the rage, especially for start-ups or for small regional firms. But recently, the concept has expanded.

Today, a lean business model is a strategy that uses continuous planning and streamlined processes to address customer needs rapidly. Here is one working definition:

A lean business model is a business strategy that strives to eliminate waste in products and processes while satisfying customer wants. In doing so, the business will receive more positive customer returns (like increased sales and goodwill) while expanding profit margins.

Lean businesses are those that recognize inefficiencies, adapt quickly, and continually prototype new options to accommodate shifts in demand.

Lean Business Practices in Action

One real-life example of a lean business strategy comes from the automotive industry.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Japanese companies dominated American auto sales by becoming more customer-oriented. Responding to market demand, Japan produced several high-quality, low-cost vehicles that were assembled in the U.S. This appealed to a niche in the market while significantly reducing development time and operating costs. Sales boomed, and it took the better part of a decade for American manufacturers to regain this lost market share.

It’s easy to recognize the results of a winning approach, but what does a lean business model look like in practice? Here are three parameters to guide your thinking:

1. Make strategy the heart of your plan

Lean businesses are flexible, fast, and efficient.

Adaptable companies are those that can change tactics while keeping their strategy consistent. What (or why) does your unique business connect with your target markets? Keep this strategic focus consistent with staying intimately connected to your preferred buyers.

2. Track progress and focus on what works

Since lean business models respond quickly to shifting demand, your company must have an accurate pulse on what is working.

This may involve fast cycles of surveying customers, with corresponding numbers that are specific and measurable.

The most important part of tweaking a business model plan is your data. This includes regularly updated sales projections, detailed performance tasks, or timebound concept developments.

Lean businesses often find that monthly projections are essential, but trajectories beyond one year are usually a waste of time. The goal is not guessing “right,” but to generate probable results and to make course corrections as you go.

3. Revise and Review

Managing a lean business model isn’t something you do once, or even once a year. Like calorie counting, the key to staying lean is regular repetition over time.

In business, this means revising and tweaking your plan consistently, including a commitment to reward experimentation and to prioritize ideas based on their output. This can be painful. It may mean abandoning concepts you championed, or sacking projects you’ve invested months into. But isn’t that better than losing time and money in the long run?

Whether you like it or not, the only constant thing in life is change. Running a lean business requires an agile mindset, a humble attitude, and a willingness to learn as you go.

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How to Build Unity in Your Team on Three Critical Levels

They are the most exceptional basketball team there ever was, or ever will be.

The 1992 Olympic Basketball Dream Team, made up of legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Scottie Pippen, dominated the Olympics, winning by an average of 40 points each game. The team seemed invincible, except for the day it wasn’t.

The game was a 20-minute scrimmage, which took place in June of 1992, in San Diego, California. The shocked victors were a star-studded college line-up. The reported margin was around eight points, with a final score of 62-54 (though coach Chuck Daly cleared the scoreboard before media were allowed in afterward). How could a powerhouse lose to amateurs? The answer was simple. Individual stars could not work together as a team. The talent was not enough to compensate for the lack of unity in the team.

Acceptance, Agreement, and Alignment

Without a unified team, the mission of your organization is lost.

Unity refers to the synergy of individuals working together to make a larger vision happen. This means each contributor to the team must be wholeheartedly focused on the same outcome to create consistency and achieve success.

What builds unity in business settings?

Generally, if people trust their leader and believe they have a voice at the table, they feel aligned with the greater purpose of an organization.

But the responsibility for building alignment lies with the leader, and includes three levels of unity:

Acceptance

Most companies already have this first (and lowest) level of unity, appointing a formal leader with team members who agree on this hierarchy.

At this level, people go along with the status quo because if they happen to object, they perceive the cost of speaking up as too great.

Agreement

At this level of unity, people agree with a team’s direction and generally support it.

Unfortunately, they are not necessarily invested in the leader’s ideas or committed to making them happen. While leaders may not experience outright resistance, at this level, teams lack momentum and can’t seem to make things happen.

Alignment

Here leaders find that people are not just with them, but fully behind them.

They’re committed to making the shared vision a reality and give tremendous effort to making it happen. They voice support in public and aren’t afraid to share concerns in private.

Move People Forward with Brave Communication

What happens if your team is stuck at level one or two? Leaders can take several steps to build unity in practical ways:

  • Discuss the levels of unity with your team, asking people to speak honestly about where things are at or share sensitive feedback in private.
  • Clearly articulate your vision, strategy, or your reason WHY. People can’t get on board with a vision if they don’t understand it. Be consistent in sharing the vision. The gravitational pull is always toward individual roles rather than team vision, and it’s your job to keep the end goal in sight.
  • Encourage debate and deliberation by positioning yourself as a learner. When weighing decisions, gather as much input as possible, then share why you decided on a particular direction.
  • Ask for buy-in. When you sense underlying tension, consider addressing it directly. Ask people who disagree with you to get on board anyway. On dicey decisions, it may be important to ask people (publicly, one by one, during a meeting) this question: “_____, can you align with this decision?”

Be brave in your communication, and you will cut to the core of disunity in your team. Remember, people can’t authentically buy-in until they’ve voluntarily committed first.

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