TK Voice – Nicole McIntyre, Process Director

On top of sharing an office, TK and True North have shared ideals when it comes to designing and building lean. True North is a consulting leader in implementing lean process & methods to the construction industry, and TK is a lean certified design firm. Being in an environment with heavy focus on lean initiatives motivated me to take it a step further and reflect on our internal processes and consider how much more efficient we could be.

My goal as Process Director is to make TK lean through its core, bring the focus we push in the design and build area into our day-to-day operations. The idea is that this will ultimately lead to improving our output and client communications, along with our overall functionality as a team.

In a fast-paced field where work comes in and changes in huge waves, often without much warning, it’s typical to put things like processes, training, reference materials, and similar tasks on the backburner. However, this is a really great way to limit your growth, especially in times where the industry is extra hot and you need to hire 8 people like, yesterday. Can you imagine how easy it would be to hire, onboard, and see ROI more quickly from those 8 people if you just took that initial time to get a better system in place? Imagine if you could just copy and paste your best employees no matter how green you hire them – creating a solid training and process foundation can essentially do this for you, or at least get you close.

Hiring and training isn’t the only focus on if you’re thinking about what areas could be improved to be more successful. With the current state of the economy, it is the perfect time to reflect on your company’s internal structure and really consider every approach to every piece of the puzzle, and then how it all fits together.

Since it can feel a little overwhelming at times, here are some easy tricks to find broken processes that I’ve used in my approach to making TK leaner internally:

  1. Find the processes with unknown and undocumented guidelines. There are a few steps to expand on this:
    1. Ask how something fundamental within the company is done from 5 people in different departments and see what the answers are.
    2. See if they can explain it to you as if you were a brand-new employee, if the directions can be broken down and easy to follow that is a great start.
    3. If they can show you a reference (ideally one that has been updated within the last 2-3 years) and where to find that reference, at face value this process gets a gold star for functionality. If an issue has already been traced back to this process but it passes all these tests, it is likely coming from another area.
  2. If those steps don’t help narrow things down, ask why it’s done that way. Employees should understand both how and why things are done a certain way to increase the consistency that the process is followed – as well as to catch things that should improve in the future (how can people weigh in on improvements when they don’t know the purpose and reason of a process in the first place?)
  3. To be even more specific, look out for any parts of a process that sound inefficient, sometimes it’s very clear and sometimes you need to dig deeper. Basic steps that don’t happen automatically (with or without human action) are a good indicator.
  4. If a production or communication related task falls on just one specific person – very clear red flag in a process. Nothing related to project output should fall on only one person, if it can’t be covered and understood by another that is a good place to start looking. Assuming you want your employees to be able to shift roles and train easily to cover workload changes without a problem, you’ll want to find a way to make that one person into at least 2, if not more.
    1. There are absolutely going to be people who feel irreplaceable, but this feeling is sometimes an indicator that part of what is keeping your company running is based on inaccessible knowledge and if that doesn’t make you a little nervous, it should. Find a way to share the knowledge.

It is a common misconception that you can’t alter the framework of your company without majorly disrupting workflow (no matter the current state of the economy or your business), or it’s just too difficult to get everyone to shift gears, or even to take the time to dig in and find everything that needs to change. There are ways to incorporate adjustments into your current workflow, and it takes reflection to realize how much needs to change and how much potential is being missed.

Lean design and building makes so much sense, why wouldn’t it make sense to carry over these ideals to your internal processes?

If you’re interested in learning more about lean building practices, check out True North’s website or reach out for a consult.

– Nicole McIntyre, Process Director