“Lean” with it.

As trends ebb and flow through the popularity pit, often their definitions become interpretations. If you’re a person with a job, you might have heard the term “Lean” (or Lean Enterprise, Lean Manufacturing or Lean Six Sigma). A trend that isn’t new, but has gained a ton of traction as of late. According to the people’s encyclopedia, the “Lean enterprise is a practice focused on value creation for the end customer with minimal waste and processes.” The term “Lean Enterprise” historically has been associated with lean manufacturing due to lean principles being popularized by Toyota in the automobile manufacturing industry, and, subsequently, the electronics and internet software industries.

According to this guy on a soapbox and this website from 1999, the lean initiative is “a system designed specifically to reduce the manufacturing enterprise to its bare bones, all the while increasing efficiency in a journey toward skyrocketing profits.”

And according to me, going lean means making right-sizing decisions at every level of the company.

lean_main_0613Conversations about BuildASign going lean started in 2013, and we decided to fully commit for 2014 (call it our adorable new year’s resolution), understanding that the short term struggles of adopting this initiative would be very real. Since the implementation, the company has experienced some pretty radical transformations – from culture changes, to goal restructuring, to setting stronger metrics. And while all those things are necessary for effectively adopting the lean enterprise, it mostly boils down to a commitment and a mentality. We had to shift completely how we mentally approached the business.

For example, a positive culture is an absolute integral part of a successful business – but coughing up the cash for a bottomless snack stash wasn’t helping our growth. Instead of suffering from our employees taking full advantage of our break room snack supply, we turned to Avanti Market and transformed our break room into a convenience store. We also eliminated the depletion of snacks during the afternoon lull by giving every employee a reloadable card that we stock with a base amount at the beginning of each month. Once they use their pre-loaded monies, they’re on their own. We’ve also incorporated more corporate-ordering options from folks like Daily Greens and Fixed Foods because they are of no cost to us and give our staff additional noshing options.

Another, more overarching lean adjustment example was the decision to change our packaging procedures in our flags department. Previously our protocol was to bag the finished flag product, box it, then ship it. By removing the boxing option, we not only reduced the cost of materials needed, but we increased production efficiency and boosted the customer experience by eliminating a step in the open-and-enjoy process. Switching from a fat business mentality to a lean business mentality has already yielded some awesome results – and it’s only July! Slowly, these slight changes in production processes and saying “no” to the shiny nickels has helped us watch costs on not only the micro level, but on the macro level as well. Plus, we’ve seen better decision making across the board, scalability has been much easier with more cash on hand, and because of that scaled growth our employees are more confident in both themselves and the company.

As a manufacturing entity, modeling Toyota has been amazing thus far. And sure, there are certainly times when it may not make sense for it to be a top priority, but ultimately every company – manufacturing or otherwise – will benefit from a lean-thinking perspective. If you’re interested in further educating yourself about the lean enterprise, check out this guy’s compilation: The Top 10 Lean Books of All Time.