Lean Startups

How to Apply Lean Principles to Your Startup's Productivity and Time Management

Focusing on one thing at a time is a very good start.
How to Apply Lean Principles to Your Startup's Productivity and Time Management
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If you’ve recently launched a startup, I’m sure that you’ve heard a lot about being “lean.” But I’m not here to discuss the methodology popularized by the likes of Eric Ries.

The lean principles from a Toyota exec.

I’m actually writing about the term and concept of “lean” that was originally developed by Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno during the reconstruction period in Japan following World War II. The process was so successful that more and more organizations around the world began to embrace it. However, it didn’t hit the mainstream until James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones released their book Lean Thinking, in 1996.

Related: What the Father of Lean Startup Thinks You Need to Start Up

Applying "lean" to productivity in startups.

Today, lean principles have been applied to almost every industry both large and small scale. For instance, lean principles in the healthcare industry have been able to reduce costs, while improving efficiency. On a smaller scale, employees have used these principles to organize their workspaces.

Here are four ways you can apply lean concepts to your startup to improve both productivity and quality.

Improve your workplace using the five principles of lean.

According to the Lean Institute, which was established by Womack and Jones in 1997, there are five core principles of lean:

Value: Value means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and knowing what their needs are. This helps you determine timelines, pricing and expectations instead of constant trial and error. For your team, letting them know how they fit into the bigger picture can keep them motivated.

Value stream: Value stream is where you create a “value stream” of all the steps and processes required in getting the final product or service to your customers. This could include design, production, delivery, HR and customer service. Knowing this information allows you to eliminate any wasteful steps.

Flow: After you’ve removed any unnecessary waste from the value stream, you want to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Flow means not having any interruptions or delays. The flow involves breaking down steps, leveling out workloads, creating cross-functional departments and training your team so they can develop multiple skills.

Pull: When flow improves, so does the time it takes to get your goods or services to customers. As a result, they can “pull” whenever needed so you’re not constantly under- or overproducing inventory, content, etc.

Perfection: Even after successfully completing the first steps, you still need to constantly keep working to improve processes so that you can eliminate waste. Perfection may be an exalted goal in whatever endeavor we are pursuing -- but we still must always be moving forward toward being the best and achieving the best.

Use the concept of 5S to get yourself organized.

5S stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.
You can use this concept to organize your workspace so you and your team are more productive by doing the following:

  • Remove any items that you no longer need (sort).

  • Organize your remaining items so you’re more efficient (straighten).

  • Keep your workspace clean and tidy so you can find items and identify problems more quickly (shine).
  • Color-code and label files and calendars to make you more consistent (standardize).
  • Develop repeatable behaviors and habits that will keep your workplace clean and organized, such as completing one task before moving onto the next (sustain).

You and your team -- even if they’re virtual employees working from a home office -- can get started by throwing away anything unneeded. Place files into cabinets -- color-code your calendars -- and keep items you frequently use nearby.

But these principles aren’t just limited to physical items. Digitally, you can use a project management system to assign tasks, quickly see the progress of projects and share files and comments in one organized dashboard.

Related: 5 Reasons Not to Follow the Lean Startup Process for Your Next Idea

Standardize your work to become more efficient.

In manufacturing, there’s a standard process for everything. The reason? By doing something the same way time and time again you will eliminate waste since you’re not constantly trying out new techniques. Standardizing also prevents errors and forgetfulness because there’s a checklist for ever step of the journey. For example, when a car is on the assembly line, it can’t move forward if someone forgot a bolt or installed a faulty steering wheel.

Standardize what makes sense.

Start by keeping a time log to see when you’re most productive and how you’re spending your time. You may notice that you’re most productive in the mornings. If so, that’s when you should work on your most important task.

If you discover that you’re checking your email and social accounts too often, schedule specific times throughout the day to check them. To prevent wasteful meetings, you can standardize meetings. Make sure these meetings are necessary and include only key people pertinent to the information. Keep all meetings as short and concise as possible.

Get into a good flow to optimize your and your team's performance.

Flow is simply how work can progress through a system. When your system is running smoothly, flow is good. When flow hits a snag, it slows down the process and waste occurs.

Manufacturing facilities make it a point to ensure that the flow is good. Unless it’s an emergency, production lines rarely stop running. Everyone has a specific job to do, and that’s all they’re focused on. That’s not the case at your startup. You must wear multiple hats, as well as deal with constant interruptions. How many times have you been in “the zone” and gotten distracted by a phone call or have no choice but to go put out a fire?

Remember focus.

One way you can improve flow in your startup is by focusing on one thing at a time. That means no more multitasking. Give your 100 percent focus to what you’re working on at the moment and then move on to your next task. This may take some self-discipline. But you can start by turning off all push notifications, closing your door, block scheduling and setting boundaries.

You can also help your team improve their flow by setting “do not disturb” zones and time frames. Another tip is to schedule a “no meeting” day. This way you and your team can maintain focus without getting interrupted by a meeting.

Related: Why Multitasking Is a Myth That's Breaking Your Brain and Wasting Your Time

Finally, you may want to consider outsourcing and delegating certain tasks. Instead of worrying about your inbox all day, hire a virtual assistant to manage your email. If you need to get your books in order, then bring in a bookkeeper. This frees you up to work solely on growing your startup.

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