'Lean' Strategies Vary Widely
The key is to concentrate on core processes and eliminate all else — or as much as can possibly be eliminated.
So says Joseph Seitz, managing partner of Alpha Leader Solutions LLC, a local consulting firm that specializes in helping clients identify problems with their business operations that are affecting profits.
The firm works with various aspects of business process improvement, including cycle time reduction, strategic planning, leadership development and post-merger integration. It serves the automotive and assembly industry, as well as selected retail sectors.
Everyone in the manufacturing industry has heard the success stories of Ford, GM and other large companies in regards to lean manufacturing processes and total quality management, he said.
But for small to medium-sized companies, Seitz said, the ultimate answer is not going to come from copying what the "big boys" have done.
According to Seitz, there really isn't a one-size-fits-all program or set of steps that every company can follow to get lean.
He said "lean" goals could include increasing responsiveness and agility, improving customer and employee satisfaction, increasing speed and accuracy, boosting profitability and market share and reducing costs.
"The concept of lean manufacturing, or business process improvement, or total quality management is that you have to take and do what is right for you," he explained. "What's right for you goes back to your business strategy.
"What is your business strategy? What are your operating systems and what are your management systems?"
If operating and management systems aren't lined up and complementary to each other, he said, then they're not as customer-focused as they could be.
According to Seitz, most businesses operate with at least 20 percent of their efforts — and in some cases as much as 60 percent — geared toward satisfying goals that aren't directly related to satisfying customers and earning customer loyalty.
A focus on customers, he said, is a focus on profits.
"A lot of times, the 20 percent comes from the manufacturing side and the additional 40 percent from the administrative side; that's where they're losing it.
"Energy is wasted, for example, when there are things in your management system that don't relate to the mission, or the focus of the company or the customer where you're income is coming from. The same thing is true for your processes."
Seitz advises that a company go back and review its strategy and business plan and align its management and operational systems so they're focused on the same end goal. A business plan isn't a static document, he said; it may have to be revisited and rewritten at times to ensure continuous improvement.
On the operational side, Seitz asks: "What is it you want to focus on? What steps are you taking? How long does it take? Why do you do it this way? What feeds into it, etc.?"
A company can't do the same thing it has always done and expect different results, he observed.
He believes answers come from the people within the organization and that people from the top down need to be involved in analyzing processes, particularly in small to medium-sized businesses.
"The reason is very simple. "In a small business, much more so than a large business, the company reflects the personality of the top executives," Seitz explained.
"People look to what the senior executives focus on and what's important to them, and that's what they take care of. If executives aren't involved, it's not important to others in the company.
"When you're talking about a company-wide approach, senior executives have to be involved. They have to change what they're doing and focusing on to get the company to change and focus on it. It has to basically become a company philosophy."
That way, he said, management, administrative, sales and manufacturing personnel are all focused on the same thing — what the customer wants.
Seitz spent 25 years working with various types of manufacturing operations and he has extensive experience in the design and implementation of quality, productivity and people improvement programs for automotive suppliers.
Alpha Leader Solutions also offers leadership development training for executives, managers, supervisors and sales associates.
"Part of what we deal with in many cases — particularly with smaller companies — is leadership, because part of it is getting that president or CEO who has been with the company since it was founded to let go a little bit. So instead of controlling the operation, they can learn to lead the operation and get other people to participate."
Seitz's wife and business partner, Rena, is taking on that end of the business.
She has 20 years of experience in the field of human resources management. She'll work with executives on skills such as communication, problem solving, decision-making, delegating responsibility, motivation, goal setting and time management
The couple combined their 45 years of experience and opened Alpha Leader Solutions in January of this year.