We are currently working with several lean manufacturing companies, and we are inspired to learn about how they became "lean" in order to transform our own business practices. You don't often hear about "lean marketing agencies." In fact, the traditional Mad Men type of marketing agency was built around excess and glamor, not efficiency and process. But this is 2012, and we all have reason to rethink our strategies. So we are transforming ourselves...
The term "lean manufacturing" is rooted in the Toyota Production System developed after World War II to drive automobile manufacturing success through continuous improvement. The basic idea is that everyone in the organization works together to find ways to streamline processes and find new solutions on a continuing basis. They do this by working in teams to identify, analyze and develop solutions for specific small-scale problems. This process is called kaizen, which is japanese for continuous improvement. In practice, they often hold 1-5 day workshops, also called kaizens, to accomplish the mission. The building blocks of this process are called PDCA:
If you have looked into improving corporate efficiency and quality, you may have also run into the terms Six Sigma and Quality Management, or Total Quality Management (TQM). These are all strategies designed to substantially reduce manufacturing defects and variability in output in order to increase customer satisfaction and profitability. Six Sigma uses a statistical approach to identifying problems. It also stresses continuous improvement and measuring results, but the big difference between these Western approaches and the "Toyota Way" is how they are implemented.
Six Sigma and TQM take a top-down approach, and employees may or may not be involved in the development of solutions. The Toyota approach emphasizes participation by everyone in the process. Managers may lead the kaizens, but they don't dictate outcomes. The purpose of kaizen is two-fold: Engender better operations and enhance the workplace and job experience for every employee at the same time. Big difference. Finally, the Toyota Way is all about striving for excellence, not adhering to a predefined statistical goal. No process is ever 100% optimized—there's always room for improvement. Huge difference!
A marketing company is no different from a manufacturing company in several important ways:
So, if your marketing agency is constantly holding kaizens and studying internal or external processes, how do you manage to get anything done?
That's the whole point. There is so much excess and waste in our processes, if these can be streamlined and optimized, we will have plenty of time to continuously improve. Add to that the idea that every employee is involved in the process of improving, and you have created an environment that is satisfying and nurturing for everyone. That's why we're going lean. Stay tuned for more as we learn and grow.
Photo credit: EdShal