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Start Lean, Stay Lean: 4 Ways to Shape Up Your Operation

As a startup founder, you have a lot of dreams to accomplish on a limited budget. One way to make sure you accomplish your goals is by focusing on efficiency right away. You can start by considering how to make your routine operational practices and processes leaner.

Though you’ll spend time getting leaner, you’ll repeat the benefits down the road. Baking efficiency into your business from the get-go achieves several key benefits. The most obvious is that you won’t have to undo inefficient workflows later, which can be costly and frustrating. Secondly, you’ll be more poised to compete, even if the economy continues its fluctuations. While competitors struggle to do more with less, you’ll already have tight measures in place.

A final upside to leanness as a startup is the advantage it brings to your culture. Efficient startup cultures tend to attract scrappy, resourceful employees. These employees are in it for the long game. They’re eager to innovate with a bootstrapper’s mindset, which can only benefit your company.

Where should you start when it comes to shoring up the efficiency of your operations? Try taking these steps.

1. Automate repetitive, time-consuming manual tasks

Manual responsibilities can eat away at your efficiency as a business. A survey from UiPath estimates that around two-thirds of employees say they’re bogged down by repetitive duties. All that repetition adds up to 4.5 hours of work weekly, which translates to more than 220 wasted hours annually.

Remember that most repetitive tasks start for a good reason. They’re often not recognized as mundane until you try to scale. Consider personalized emails, for instance. When you only have a few B2B clients, creating each one from scratch may make sense. In time, this work becomes too bulky, ultimately stealing your workers’ time from other places.

Talk to your team about what is slowing them down and do a deep dive. Are there processes or operational practices that would benefit from automation? Is your product leaning too heavily on manual input? As Ryan Sandler, Co-Founder and CEO of Truework explains, “Manually pulling data can take a lot of time.” 

“Part of how we started as a company involved automating the employment verification process for HR departments who were manually pulling data and spending a lot of time doing so. Over time we have automated to the point where most requests on the platform require no manual input to verify income.” Sandler suggests focusing on what your team does really well, and what parts of their day might be better spent doing tasks that can’t otherwise be automated. By automating time consuming tasks, you not only speed up the process but also reduce potential for human error. He adds that by maximizing automation, you’re doubling down on your team’s strengths and automating workflows that are limiting productivity.

2. Arrange for short, daily meetings

One way to ensure that you don’t miss places to be efficient is through concise daily meetings with direct reports. These meetings shouldn’t last more than about 15 minutes. They’re not meant to solve major problems but to keep everyone up to speed on what’s happened and happening.

During your daily meeting, have all participants talk about what’s on their plates for the day. Encourage them to prioritize everything. As you talk through what’s occurring, look for redundancies. For example, you may learn that two of your team members are working on the same type of project. If they collaborate—or if one hands it off to the other—you’ll have freed up extra time.

Your daily meetings need to be pithy and quick. Try limiting them with a timer, at least at first. Make sure everyone knows that these meetings aren’t to get into the weeds. They’re to give a bird’s eye view of what’s on the agenda to highlight potential opportunities for leanness.

3. Give employees as much autonomy as you can

Employees who have the freedom and authority to make decisions are an asset to your organization. As long as they understand their parameters, they can help you achieve incredible levels of efficiency. It’s not hard to see how and why when you think about traditional approval processes. Approvals can get held up quickly, especially if they require sign-offs from people who aren’t always available, including executives.

Handing over autonomy could have a side effect that will contribute to your leanness objectives: employee longevity. Turnover can cost you a bundle. Gallup estimates that, on average, you’ll spend up to two times a worker’s annual salary to replace that person. That’s money that can add up quickly, even if you’re a relatively small startup.

In a piece on the future of work, Harvard Business Review authors reveal that autonomy can be a pathway to employee engagement. And the more engaged your team members, the more likely they’ll be to want to stay and deliver great results for your organization. The longer they’re around, the more legacy knowledge you’ll have in-house. Plus, they’ll be in tune with your desire to operate efficiently.

4. Integrate your tech stack pieces

When you’re first starting out, you’ll probably “test drive” a lot of tech stack options. Not only does this make sense, but it can also help keep your technology budget in check. Plenty of tech solutions providers offer free or low-priced introductory rates. However, you can’t keep jumping from one technology to another. Eventually, you have to settle on systems, software, and platforms that work for your needs.

Just make sure that you don’t end up saying “yes” to a bunch of tech solutions that won’t work together. Nothing will tank efficiencies like tech that doesn’t integrate. Here’s why: Your team will have to spend time moving from one user experience to another. That’s overwhelming, particularly with logins. Plus, you’ll end up with pools of siloed data. When data exists in silos, it can’t be fully parsed and analyzed. This leaves you unable to get the benefit of having all the insights you could.

When should you begin to integrate all your tech? Sooner rather than later, to be honest. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to make changes later. It’s much faster and simpler to integrate technologies when you’re still in the early phases of building your brand.

As a final takeaway, remind yourself often that operational efficiency isn’t something that falls under the auspices of “fix it and forget it.” To get and stay efficient, you have to focus your attention on implementing continuous lean improvements.

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