Going Lean

Are you necessary?

One Piece Flow model isn’t just for manufacturing anymore.  Since the pandemic of 2020 and massive layoffs across the country many businesses have had to use their creative minds to stay afloat even after the ‘pandemic layoffs’ that impacted millions of people. One-piece flow, also called continuous flow, refers to the way products move from one step in the process to the next—moving them efficiently by planning workflow based on the product and its needs, instead of the organization or equipment.

Do you remember the movie Office Space?  There were the ‘Bob’s’, these two guys were consultants hired by the fictional company Inetek to evaluate employees’ function within the organization.  My favorite guy is Tom and his entire purpose at Inetek was to carry the specifications from the customers to the engineers “because engineers aren’t good with people.” This evaluation would determine if Tom’s job was just an extra, unnecessary step, in the process. Needless to say, it was not necessary and Tom was let go.  Although a funny scenario, the real-life version is not so funny. 

Layoffs and downsizing create stress and anxiety about the future.  Like Tom in the Office Space scenario, his anxiety about losing his job causes him to become angry and defensive, sealing the deal of his impending layoff.  Companies attempting to maximize their people and services is not new, but the pandemic has thrust many service industries in to a one-piece-flow model for different reasons.  Now more than ever cross-training and minimal staff is a necessity not just to save money but because so many people did not return to the service industry when things opened back up.

A restaurant owner in New Orleans adopted the lean manufacturing model, one-piece-flow, not only to stay in business but to provide as many jobs as he could.  Instead of multiple servers and bartenders and cooks, only one person would cater to a table or customer.  This person would be responsible for the drinks, the order, the delivery of the order to the table and all other customer needs.  There were less positions but they were better paying positions.  Everyone is crossed-trained from the kitchen to the check-out.  It is an all-inclusive labor model.  This is a future-proof strategy in the hospitality industry. 

If you have stayed in a hotel in 2021, you will notice a move to a lean model as well. Your room is cleaned upon check-out and extra towels are upon request only.  This lessons the burden of staffing and saves the hotel money. Again, there are less positions but everyone is cross-trained so you may see someone at the front desk but later picking up the slack in another position as well, like folding towels or helping with breakfast.

The lean inventory management strategy has also found its way into the service industry by eliminating or minimizing excess resources such as menus.  No longer will we need someone to take our order, we sit down, snap a picture of the QR code and send it in.  This is also beneficial in reducing the spread of germs, no more dirty menus to touch.

Lean Manufacturing isn’t just about layoffs and optimization it is the way of the future.  People like Tom in Office Space will be faced with the question, “Is my job necessary?”  As service industries struggle to get people to come back to work, they will move to this lean model with less people, but they make more money.  Furthermore, as technology advances and less people are required, the one-piece-flow model will progressively become the “new norm.”

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