Running a Lean Business

by Jeff Williams - Project Manager

Today’s economy demands that we run our businesses in a way that controls cost, achieves a high level of productivity, and allows for a culture of continuous improvement. Much of what we know about Lean business practices and tools comes from the “Toyota Production System”, which has been adapted over the past 50+ years across many industries. There are plenty of good lessons from it to apply to a software project — a key attribute to successfully running a Lean business is the elimination of waste.

What is Waste?

Waste, simply defined, is an act of consuming more resources than are necessary to produce the goods or services that your customer wants. When evaluating a process through the lens of Lean, waste can be anything that consumes resources and creates no resultant value. Uncovering and eliminating the waste in your business will have an immediate impact on productivity and ultimately your bottom line.

Types of Waste

Lean practices advocate looking for specific types of waste. While, again, the school of thought was created for a manufacturing world, there are obvious analogs in software development. Some of the types of waste defined by Lean are:

  • Over-Production – Producing more than what the customer needs.
  • Waiting – Employees waiting, idle, for another person, process, or equipment.
  • Motion – Extra physical/mental motion that doesn’t add value.
  • Transportation – Moving products from one place to another.
  • Inventory – Building and storing extra services/products the customer has not ordered.
  • Defect – Reprocessing, or correcting work stemming from production failures.
  • Over Processing – Adding excess value when the customer does not require it.
  • Intellect – Not using employees’ full intellectual capacity or talent.

When Waste is Removed

Waste can be hidden in any process within your business. For example, “waiting”, if you eliminate 20 minutes per day of “waiting” by the end of the year you will have gained two weeks of time. Using Claris FileMaker to help you identify and eliminate waste can be a powerful way to begin the Lean transformation of your business. Each type of waste can easily be captured and tracked within a custom FileMaker solution. Some examples of custom “waste eliminating” solutions are Inventory Management, Job Tracking, Productivity or Parts Per Labor Hour (PPLH), Takt Time, Cycle Time/Count, Shipping and Receiving, Supply Chain, Document Management, 5S and Safety, Incident Management, Scheduling, Time Tracking, Process Automation, Employee Management, and Accounting.

Examples of FileMaker solutions that eliminate waste

Productivity Tracking
During one of my roles as an in-house FileMaker developer, I was tasked with replacing a manual process for tracking how many parts an operator could produce each hour. The manual process required the operator to stop every hour, walk to a dry erase board, manually tally and total the parts they made, and write that on the board for the corresponding hour. At the end of the day, the supervisor would capture a picture of each board and then manually compile the data in excel. The solution I created leveraged FileMakerGo, iPads, and IoT devices called Phidgets. At the beginning of each job, the operator would scan a barcode into the iPad, and FileMakerGo would pull up the details of the parts to be produced. Using the Phidgets, FileMaker automatically captured when a part was made and recorded the data in the database. Above each work area were FileMaker dashboards that displayed totals and productivity statistics. By eliminating the hourly stops for manual data collection and end-of-shift manual data entry, we could put several hours per day back into the production process. Allowing the operators to have more time on task and provide real-time feedback on performance. Waste: Waiting, Motion, Intellect, Over Processing, Over Production.

Automated Order Entry
I worked with a client that ran a seasonal business where all customer purchases were made online. The existing process required the client to manually transfer order data from an email they would receive when an order was placed into their FileMaker solution. Due to the seasonal nature of the client’s business, the owner had to complete this manual process, taking them away from other business-critical tasks. Using the FileMaker Insert Form URL feature, I was able to connect to the ordering website and retrieve order data automatically for the client. Scripts within the FileMaker solution completed the order entry process. Automating this process gave the client several hours per day back to focus on business-critical tasks. Waste: Waiting, Over Processing, Intellect.

Once you begin the process of waste elimination, you will quickly begin to reap the rewards of a fundamental component of running a Lean business. Lean business practices are centered around adding value to your business. At Codence we believe that we add value to your business through well-crafted, rightly-sized FileMaker solutions and lasting partnerships with our clients.

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