If ever there was a time to take a hard look at how to become lean, now is the moment. Yes, all the bad economic news makes us wonder when are times going to be normal again. Basically, it does not matter, the only thing that matters is that life goes on, and so must we.

What better time than when things are slow to think about how to become more efficient!

Starting to think lean

Lean thinking paves the way. How do we begin the process? Start with the dictum in lean: "The only value we have is what's seen through the customer's eyes." What does this mean? At face value it certainly means the finished work; this is what is seen. But also it may be the initial contact and the impression your services will make on the customer. It may well be what your shop looks like or even how you speak. It is true that people buy from people they like.

To be sure, the dictum may well mean different things to different people, but we should be able to fashion what it means to most customers. It also will mean many things we do to bring the product from inception to completion have no value at all!

Learn how to streamline

There are many things we need to do, such as choose our suppliers, determine which products we use, select what machinery we employ to engineer the product, all of which have no value in the customers' eyes. But these things are nevertheless very important for our business. The fact that we have to make cutting lists and machine parts means nothing to the customer. It means nothing that we have to keep accounts and operate computers and deal with staff issues. It means nothing that we have a thousand daily little things to deal with that take up our time and resources.

If these activities have no value but take up most of our time, shouldn't we take a hard look at these and determine how to streamline them, or do away with them altogether? Lean thinkers say yes, because they consider them to be waste.

Through a new lens

Take the time now to look at your past and present activities through this new lens and rethink all that is being done. Start by taking one job and writing all associated tasks that are now done, and determine how much time each took. Once this is done mark those which have value in one column and the rest in another. Do not be surprised if you find 60 to 70 percent of your activities have no value. Now pick the low-hanging fruits of these in the no value column and think about how you can take time out of them or even do away with them.

Pursue this thinking relentlessly and soon you will be on a path to becoming lean. Once you do, you will be surprised as to how well things will run; how much better the value you create will flow.

Do not expect instant success, it will take many months before you will see positive results, but rest assured others have done this and experienced changes that can only be described as miraculous.

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