As a member of a team, you are always searching for ways to improve performance collectively and individually. It's natural to believe that the only way to improve performance is practice, practice, and more practice. This is common because practice works!
Now, it's safe to say that we all agree practice is imperative for us to improve our skills. But, what do you do when you don't have the time, energy, or patience to practice more?
The solution...get lean.
If you are familiar with lean methodologies, this may be a review for you. Lean thinking was popularized by Toyota for their unique ability to constantly improve the way they manufactured their cars. Another term used by Toyota was kaizen, which means continuous improvement. Rather than being satisfied with the status quo, Toyota used lean methodologies to become the most efficient and quality car manufacturer in the world.
Now you may be thinking..."this lean stuff sounds good for a car manufacturer, but what does that have to do with me improving my performance?". This is a valid concern. But as you read about the lean principles below, you will discover how they can be implemented by any team or individual to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency.
Principle 1: Eliminate Waste
Toyota used this principle to eliminate things such as overproduction, inventory, worker motion, defects, waiting, etc. Now think about the activities you do on a daily basis. Use a blank piece of paper and write out every action you do throughout the day while at work. I guarantee there are a number of tasks or activities that can either be changed to improve efficiency, or simply removed from your task list. People generally become so busy trying to get all their work done that they neglect taking the necessary time to develop simple standards and processes. Think about those reoccurring problems you encounter, yet you don't have a standardized process in place to deal with them. How much time are you wasting? When you take the time to write all your activities on a piece of paper, you will be pretty surprised at how much you can improve or change.
Principle 2: Specify the Work
By specifying exactly what a worker should do (and just as importantly...should NOT do), you will allow yourself to prioritize your time better. It's so easy to spend precious time on meaningless tasks. To specify work, ask yourself, "What do I repeatedly do?". Make note of these reoccurring tasks and try to standardize each one.
Here's an important tip...do not try to specify everything. Tasks that you do not encounter frequently should not be included. Take a few minutes to identify the obstacles or tasks that will inevitably slow you down, then determine how to deal with them before you encounter them.
Principle 3: Structure Communications
Most projects or jobs require a team to accomplish a goal. And effective communication is imperative to the success of a team. Yet, I'm sure you can recall a bad experience while working on a team due to poor communication, or lack thereof. To improve your team communication, here's a few tips. First, define who should be communicating, how often, and what.
Also, creating structure around conflict resolution is a good idea. To do so, it's highly recommended to always focus on facts, not opinions.
Principle 4: Use the Scientific Method to Solve Problems
This principle could easily fall under the previous one - Structure Communications. The purpose of this principle is to provide a structure for employees to present their experiments by using the following format: question, hypothesis, method of experiment, results, and conclusion.
This standard approach will enable teams to quickly build case studies and best practices.
Principle 5: Start Small, then Grow
Don't overwhelm yourself or your team by trying to implement a massive change project. Lean principles will work on many things, but not everything. Try experimenting with small projects and see which ones result in enhanced efficiencies or effectiveness.
Principle 6: Engage Managers
Like anything involving a team, supportive leadership is a must. If employees are going to invest their valuable time to learn and implement the lean practices, then the leaders must support and champion the successful projects.