Entrepreneurs are lured into the idea of running a dynamic and exciting company that they neglect to pay attention to the boring stuff like process and management. Ignoring these key aspects may temporarily work, which can help outperform some good companies, but it will never work in the long run. This is because when entrepreneurs focus too much on opportunity cost, they fail to consider that waste is worse than loss. Time, money, energy and skills are limited resources that are too precious to waste. Everyone may agree, but few will do something about it.
A different management approach though must be applied in an innovative, data-driven and fast-paced environment like Digital Marketing. One cannot expect to stay too focused on the procedure while client requirement keeps on changing. This is where Lean Thinking comes in. Quoting Wikipedia, “The basic insight of lean thinking is that if you train every person to identify wasted time and effort in their own job and to better work together to improve processes by eliminating such waste, the resulting enterprise will deliver more value at less expense.” And the best part of it is you enhance your employees’ confidence, skill and ability to work with others.
Introducing a new methodology might spread panic and negativity to people who will be affected with the change. It is but human nature to resist change however good the leader’s intention is.
So how do we make it easy for entrepreneurs to integrate Lean Thinking in the company’s culture?
Among the many management books,The Lean Startup by Eric Ries has captured the core tenets of Lean Thinking in the most digestible manner. Let’s go through each one of them:
1. Draw on the knowledge and creativity of individual
As Jim Collins simply stated in his Good to Great book: “Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.”
Gone are the days where employees look forward to religiously following a set of instructions given to them every single day. With the onset of automation, and millennials slowly populating the workforce, there is a much greater need to focus on maximizing their desire to be creative, ability to multitask, love for technology, and preference to work in a group.
However, this is tricky because without guidance, accountability and performance measures, this will end up to what we’ve been avoiding in the first place — chaos.
Building a cross-functional team can be a starting point. Here, the setup is not hierarchical, and everyone is expected to contribute and collaborate. Members are encouraged to check on each other’s output, and success is measured by milestones.
2. Shrinking into smaller batches
There is too much happening simultaneously in the life of a typical digital marketer. Add to that the ever-changing demand of every client. The challenge here is how to ensure that each step in marketing is adding value to customer service, while thriving in the highly-competitive environment.
Let’s take preparing a marketing pitch, which is the lifeblood of acquiring clients, as an example. Instead of treating “Brainstorming to Final presentation” as one complete batch, categorize them them into manageable phases. You can set up milestones where one can check if they’re still on track, and make adjustments as necessary. This means that instead of having one output, which is the Marketing Proposal and Presentation, it can be subdivided into the following: Research, Marketing Strategy, Tactical plan, visuals and collaterals, timeline, budget, presentation, and so on.
Surprisingly, the process alone of shrinking deliverables into smaller batches will help the team discover unnecessary steps, gaps, and unanticipated additional tasks, thus allowing them to be able to iterate quickly and easily. The rest of the time is spent on fine-tuning the marketing strategy and tactics to align with the marketing objective.
“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Very well said by Peter Drucker, an author who has contributed to the foundations of modern business corporation.
Simply put, do not build for the sake of building something. Let the data drive you to what customers really want, and not what they say or what you think they do.
Just-in-time (JIT) methodology aims to eliminate inventory while ensuring faster response times to suppliers and customers. It may have originated in a manufacturing setup, but it’s objective clearly matches the expectations from a Digital Marketing company, which is to deliver what the clients want when they need it.
How do you implement JIT? You need a system that gathers the required data and analyzes them, effectively embeds red flags that can identify hurdles and roadblocks, a feedback mechanism that will help you decide whether to steer or turn, and a team that can quickly implement changes and iterations.
4. Acceleration of cycle times
Since time is one of our limited resources, we should look closely at how long it actually takes to produce one product or perform a certain service. This is where efficiency comes in. There are, for instance, several ways to effectively kill a chicken, but only one efficient way to do so.
As they say, “It usually takes a long time to find the shorter way,” but for sure it will be worth it.
Here’s a checklist on how to help you improve and eventually accelerate marketing cycle times:
- Identify activities which causes delays/bottlenecks and ask why five times.
- Challenge each step whether they are adding value to the overall process objective. If not, then eliminate.
- Ask the questions: “How do I shorten each step?” or “How do I make things faster without sacrificing the quality of the output?”
- Challenge the existing flow (be it material or information)
- Implement, measure and iterate
There is no rocket science to implementing Lean Methodology. It just takes the Just-do-it approach to a higher level of “Failing fast, failing cheap but falling forward,” where falling forward should equate to validated learning.
Yes, management can be boring, but there is nothing more exciting than seeing your company succeed and change the world.