As a six sigma black belt, much of my training focused on manufacturing processes. When I work with transactional processes, such as those in creative services, I apply six sigma techniques whenever possible. But I've found that often a much more immediate return can be realized from applying LEAN techniques. Often people think of these as two opposing approaches to improvement, but that needn't be the case.
Six sigma concentrates on reducing variability, which is very important, and LEAN focuses on reducing waste, which is equally important. LEAN has some very specific steps to improvement and, a unique vocabulary that comes from its Japanese roots. Sometimes this vocabulary can get in the way of adoption, since people can tune out when they hear terms like 5S, value stream analysis, and Kaizen event. Nevertheless, here are some reasons why LEAN can be effective in your creative services organization.

Clean up and organize your work environment - In manufacturing environments, this step involves organizing tools and materials, and removing "stuff" that complicates your process. In creative groups some things this can include are:
* How you organize work-in-progress files and pass them around
* Where you store things like logos and images
* Simplifying the number of creative applications (or versions) used
* Removing computer "clutter" such as outdated projects, excessive personal content or personal collections of branding content

Identify your areas that waste time and effort - attention to causes of waste in your process can uncover some big surprises. Some of the biggest offenders are:
* Unnecessary revisions -many projects go through way too many rounds of revision just because the goal isn't well defined, or people wait to make copy changes until the last minute.
* Wait time - when you send a concept out for review and it doesn't come back for a week, it impacts your entire schedule and the productivity of your group. Often this is caused by a lack of understanding by the approver on how they are affecting the project.
* Over-design - it's no secret that designers love to design, and that is great if you are doing a new, edgy campaign. But, it's not so good when you are updating an in-house insurance brochure. You need to recognize when to employ those great creative talents and when to be satisfied with something that is "good enough."

Get to the bottom of, and get rid of common problems - a staple of LEAN process improvement is the Kaizen event. This is a fantastic process that engages everyone doing the work in an intense week-long workshop to identify problems, establish root causes, and brainstorm simple solutions. That's great if you can take everyone off the job for a week, but that's not often the case in a creative organization. But, you can apply those techniques in an abbreviated form and come up with great and simple solutions to many of your nagging problems.

So, you don't have to call it LEAN, but there are some great improvement opportunities for your organization hidden in this pragmatic approach to process.

For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email cella@cellaconsulting.com.

Les Johnson has nine years of experience providing technical solutions and process improvement in the Creative Services environment. Les is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and provides process analysis and improvement services to clients. These services include process mapping, improvement activities and recommendations for process changes to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.