How we learned to work lean in 10 easy steps

At work I have a few rules and practices that I stick to, mainly for the reason that it allows people to get the most out of their time and abilities – to focus on creating value.

I believe that when you strip away the power structures, drain the silos and add transparency, what you’re left with is the value that all individuals can provide. Then if it’s revealed that no value is provided by someone then that person should create value elsewhere. Right now this is happening en masse in society and in industries around the world as menial tasks are automated.

Defining value is not easy but I generally consider it to be something that other people are willing to spend money, effort or time on and in a broader sense something that has a lasting positive effect on human existence. Value needs a solid foundation to be discovered. This is how we do it:

1. Make everything scale. As in simple things like: no paper, only digital, since paper doesn’t scale. Scanned paper in better but still not indexable and therefore harder to find when needed. At work we have about 40 cm of paperwork from 2½ years back, including receipts, contracts and other administrative stuff that we’re legally bound to save. Focus on making your systems and processes scale, because people and physical things don’t scale well. Speaking of which…

2. Allow people to scale. People should be free to work whenever they want as long as it doesn’t affect their or others’ ability to get things done. But respect the need for teamwork. Everyone is free to take on other responsibilities than what has originally been agreed upon, but you also have to do your other work. People don’t scale indefinitely and everyone will plateau at some point – this is ok as long as you’re creating value.

3. Leave your ego at the door, as it’s not about you. “Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We”. I don’t believe in star players as it erodes the group dynamic. Everyone plays a vital part in the grand scheme of things – at work and in life.

4. No ones owns their work, and it should be accessible by anyone, anytime. It’s often that I and my colleagues are located far from each other when something needs to be worked on, and by allowing everyone to follow up on things we can work unhindered. We use Slack, Google Apps, Dropbox and access to various social networks to work together and I have 0 files locally on my laptop.

5. Leaders don’t tell people what to do. Leaders give people a direction, the means to get there, the trust that they can do it and support when needed. It’s really as simple as that.

6. Automate whenever you can since it allow for people to focus on the essential things – building and creating value. Repetitive tasks can in most cases either be either outsourced or better yet automate since humans are meant to use their creativity to innovate.

7. Be ready to kill your darlings. If something doesn’t work you need to move on and focus on the things that do. Company or organization politics is most often the cause of the inability to change course. Do more of what works, and less of that which doesn’t work. The hard part is finding out which is which.

8. Get a feedback loop going to find out what great ideas there are in your organization and among your customer base. Act upon them by writing up the ideas, prioritising them and executing when the time is right. There are a number of online services that allow you to collect feedback from your customers in real time.

9. Make your processes and goals clear and visible. We use kanban boards with post-its and often write out our qualitative and quantitative targets as well as look back at what we’ve accomplished. Make your tasks actionable to make sure that you’re moving forward every day.

10. No silos – share as much information about your work as you can with your colleagues. But do it regularly in an agreed upon without resorting to long meetings.

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