Where will 2011 take you?

Most companies have completed their 2011 Strategic Plan and are on to implementation. We are always exploring the relationship between a company's business strategy and the Lean/Continuous Improvement Process. Tying the strategic needs of the business to improvement efforts allows an organization to become effectively focused. We would even say that this process enhances the development of a culture of excellence—some sort of high-powered competitive capability. While this information is nothing new to you, we wanted to give you our Outlook and suggestions for a better 2011. Needless to say, we are "Optimistic."

Opportunitypportunity. There has never been a better time or need for creativity. "Expand the pond" by offering new products or services to your existing customers. Or sell existing products and services to new customers/markets. This requires flexible and creative thinking and a willingness to grasp new opportunities.

Peopleeople. To quote Jim Collins, first you need to "get the right people on the bus and put them in the right seats." There has never been a more talented, intelligent, dedicated group of people available as now. Lean, Six Sigma, and other improvement tools can be learned, but it's hard to overcome an absence of talent or personal motivation. Find them—then keep them engaged!

Trainrain, Teach, Trust! Invest in helping your leaders become better planners, coaches, team facilitators and coordinators. Pay close attention to your operative employees. Teach the why as well as the how. Create a learning and teaching culture to develop a high-performance, productive workforce. Then trust. Trust goes both ways in learning. First, the employee must trust that you have their best interest at heart. Second, after training and teaching, you must get out of the way and trust them to apply what they have learned.

Improvemprove constantly. Allocate resources for the constant improvement of products and services. It is more important now than ever to get an outside view. They can help see current deficiencies, identify priorities and communicate a platform for great improvements. Make your business an environment where people seek improvement because it's the right thing to do and they’ve been taught how to do it.

Manageanage Resources Flawlessly. Poor planning drives waste. Your ERP system must be adapted to support your Lean planning, scheduling and implementation. Uniting information from sales and marketing, materials planning, supply chain management, and production into a cohesive whole will give you a powerful tool to run your business. Be one of the select few who can provide communication to their customers at any given point in your business process.

Increasencrease efforts on Sales and Promotion. Assign as many qualified people as possible to talk to and meet with customers and prospective customers. The name of the game is "feet on the street." The owner/CEO and other key people can be particularly important in this initiative. At the same time, we want to redouble promotional activities and communication to both current customers as well as potential new accounts.

Suppliersuppliers. Rather than just managing the supply chain, you need to build effective, long-term relationships by sharing Lean knowledge, experience and working out win-win waste reduction programs.

Takeake time to think! And, "think straight." Lord Thompson of Fleet at age 67 built a great business empire in a very short time. He later wrote a book and said, "Thinking is work…The more we do it the more we are likely to think a problem to a proper conclusion...If one wants to be successful, one must think; one must think until it hurts…"

Increase nvest. Even when cash is short and the short-term prospects are a bit gloomy, investing in the future is important. Some investments are needed to maintain momentum, to ensure that the company continues to move in the desired direction. While some Lean projects can be capital intensive and may have to wait, hundreds of other small improvements can be supported with nominal expense. Select improvements that drive bottom line benefits. This level of Lean implementation should not be interrupted.

Customer ustomer. Get closer to your customer. Find out their roadblocks and be the solution. Assist in their strategic planning. Offer ways in which you may help them achieve their goals. Meet with customers who buy from your competitors. They are a great resource for input on your products and services. Above all, exceed your customers' expecations!