By Denise Perreault
Published by the Providence Business News
'The lean guru,' local consultant focuses on efficiency as a growth plan
A North Kingstown consultant and author says inefficiencies that can keep businesses from communicating effectively internally and with customers can be greatly reduced with a streamlined approach that focuses office time and attention on business growth.
Dubbed “the lean guru” by industry insiders, Kevin J. Duggan, president of Duggan Associates and founder in 2007 of the Institute for Operational Excellence, also based in North Kingstown, has helped businesses in 450 locations around the world reorganize their workplaces for increased performance since he started his consulting firm in 1998.
The overarching goal of his method is “to grow the business,” he said. “Any efficiency that results is a byproduct because our intent is not to cut costs or reduce the work force. Streamlining processes is for business growth.”
To help illustrate how his principles work – principles he noted he uses in his own business – he described an office scenario where employees await approval from the higher-ups, perhaps to purchase equipment or hire a worker. “It takes days to get done,” he said.
Meanwhile, affected employees fret about when the approval will come and why it hasn’t come yet, chasing the supervisors responsible for issuing such permissions. And those supervisors are probably chasing others for different approvals that they need.
What needs to be done, according to Duggan, is a review of office operations to determine the “demand rate” for the issuance of such approvals. Is it daily? Is it weekly? Then, a schedule could be set so that those responsible for the approvals routinely meet at a certain time every day or every week to act on them. So work flows smoothly, without interruptions caused by chasing colleagues for answers.
“The beauty of this is, everyone in the company knows when they’ll get an answer,” Duggan said. And, furthermore, an employee can then inform the customer of when a decision will be made and that employee always will be proven correct, he added.
Managers should be focused outward, on external opportunities to grow the company, he said, rather than inward, on running the office.
“What do managers do? They tell you what to do, when to do it and how to do it,” he continued, suggesting such guidance is seldom necessary because rank-and-file workers know what they need to do to accomplish imminent goals. “There are an infinite number of ways that an employee knows what to work on next,” he said. Usually, it’s “whatever the next person I’m connected to needs.”
Duggan has been a guest on “Lean Nation,” a WPRO-AM 790 radio talk show hosted by Karl Wadensten, president of Vibco Inc. in Richmond and himself a strong advocate of lean methods.
The main office at Vibco, Wadensten said, follows Duggan’s lean principles, which he noted are especially appropriate in today’s economy when businesses must do more with less.
Duggan is co-author of “The Office That Grows Your Business – Achieving Operational Excellence in Your Business Processes,” which the Institute for Operational Excellence published in 2009.
His next book, “The Jump to Operational Excellence,” is scheduled for publication by McGraw-Hill in September 2011.