Website design, development and copywriting can be done faster, more accurately and creatively with the help of Lean manufacturing techniques, which help companies around the globe accomplish industry-leading results. Lean is a production practice that helps identify resource use that’s not directly tied to creating value for customers, so it can be eliminated. In essence, Lean preserves value with less work. Some common objectives Lean aims to achieve:

  • 1/2 the hours of human effort
  • 1/2 the defects
  • 1/3 the hours of engineering effort
  • 1/2 the factory space for the same output
  • 1/10th or less of in-process inventories

Forms of Lean have been utilized by companies like Toyota since the 1960s, achieving individual productivity rates in excess of 35%, versus American and Canadian companies, which attain productivity rates of 5.2% and 3.9%, respectively. In fact, this process improvement system has been credited with helping Toyota achieve steady growth for decades, from a small company to the world’s largest automaker.

Canada-based Value FLOW Systems (VFS), which studies and implements Lean throughout Canada, the US and Europe, recently conducted a workshop at Wardell Business Advisory in Vancouver, BC, to demonstrate the power of the Lean process.

Lean Workshop: The Fictitious Boat Factory

Participants joined a production line and were called on to make as many cardboard sailboats as possible in 30 minutes. With the ‘workers’ manning each of the work stations, and everyone going full out, the group was hard pressed to build 20 boats, while pumping 30 defective hulls into the process.

For a second round, the VFS team made a couple of minor layout changes to the production line, including re-organizing the bottleneck area. During the next 30-minute period, the team managed to build 36 boats with only one defective hull, which was detected and repaired immediately. This translated to an 80% output improvement, a 70% reduction in lead time, and a 97% reduction in defects. The amazing thing was that nobody worked any harder; in fact, the participants were unanimous in stating that the work pace was very relaxed.

flow model

A FLOW model compares the process to a pipe, said VFS President Ken Yates, pointing out that there are four relevant features that need to be addressed. Since no process is perfect, he explained, there will always be faults (F) in the pipe (or process). The time it takes to produce a product is represented by the length (L) of the pipe and the capacity by its opening (O). Finally, the process is operated by the workforce (W).

“By studying each of these aspects, F–L–O-W, the group learns how to modify the way that the participants perform their tasks,” explained Yates, “The team then gets back to work and without hurrying, builds twice as many boats in the same time period, with an astounding reduction in defects and every boat being produced in less than half the time.”

While Lean was effective with cardboard sailboats, it proves to work just as well in the real world, in essentially any industry. It consistently helps companies increase output while reducing costs, waste, inventory levels and delivery times. This ultimately results in increased product quality, productivity and competitiveness.

Yates indicated typical outcomes after 15- to 20-day improvement programs include:

  • 25%-90% productivity improvements
  • 30%-80% inventory and stock reductions
  • 30%-80% response time reductions
  • 20%-30% reduction in square footage required
  • 30%-80% lot size reduction

Applying Lean to Website Production

So how does all this apply to website production? Well, suggested Yates, it’s best to start with client requirements. “The client likely wants a first-class website, including every conceivable advantage, as soon as possible at a competitive price,” he said.

To achieve this, Lean puts the following elements under the microscope:

F (Faults) – Reduce Waste and Defects

No client is willing to tolerate errors in a website. Lean moves designers, developers and copywriters toward an ‘error-proof’ process, where it becomes difficult to do something incorrectly, and all input is focused on ever-improving quality — from the point of view of the client.

Avoid Overproduction and Excess Inventory

Don’t produce more than is needed, or before it’s needed. While this generally applies to manufacturing, it can be applied to website production. For instance, calling for 30 pages of web copy when only 20 are required, or engaging a costly content management system when a simple blogging solution like WordPress would be sufficient. To avoid waste, designers, developers and copywriters should discuss and outline needs, concerns and opportunities within their respective areas of specialization.

Transportation

Despite the advent of the Internet, this rule still applies. Even small web development agencies are guilty of unneeded movement of materials, including what might be considered trivial items, such as reference material, CDs, or even pens. Measurable efficiencies can be gained by having the right equipment at each workstation. Some companies literally outline the equipment in each area, so you know at a glance if anything is missing.

Inappropriate Procedures

This is a killer in the website production world. Developing a wireframe before the website’s objectives and call to action if firmed up. Developing apps before an audience’s desires or needs are fully explored. Copywriting before the information architecture and link structure is established. All stakeholders need to be on the same page and work as a cohesive unit.

Waiting and Delays

Unfortunately, the waiting game is quite common with web designers, developers and copywriters. In fact, Webcopyplus has been called into projects where designers have been waiting for clients to provide web copy for more than a year. Or developers don’t receive designs on time, which forces overlap onto other projects, causing additional stress and conflict. All players must respect their commitments and their colleagues’ needs, and deliver quality goods on time. Clients, too, need to understand their timelines, and commit to meeting them.

Rejects and Rework

Defects equal pure waste. Every item, including design, programming and copywriting, must be made to customer specifications.

Poka Yoke

Apply Poka Yoke, a Japanese term that means "fail-safing" or "mistake-proofing." Design templates, tools and software so they can only be used the correct way. Consider electrical plugs with the different prongs.

L (Length) – Reduce Global Lead Time

Meeting delivery dates is one of the weakest service components delivered by Canadian and US companies, something the website production industry is guilty of too. Lean uses long-established concepts to ensure rapid response time and reliable forecasts of finishing times.

Process Mapping

Systematically question each activity in the current value stream, and develop the right process. When to and how to decide on the software platform, SEO tactics, and so on. It helps create a ‘pure pull’ environment, where you keep the order moving, versus a ‘pure push’ environment, where you just keep working for the sake of working, and spin your tires.

O (Opening) – Increase Capacity

Every process has a bottleneck, a constraint that restricts output. Becoming Lean means being able to identify the constraint, and focus effort where it counts most. This could entail people skills, resources, parts, hardware limitations, software accessibility, and so on.

Dealing with Bottlenecks

Some standard ways to open up bottlenecks and improve flow include:

1. Cross lunch hours and breaks
2. Extend working hours
3. Control quality before bottlenecks
4. Apply DOCTOR / NURSE principle to bottleneck
5. Reducing setup time at bottleneck is the priority

W (Workforce) – Involve the Workers in Continuous Improvement

According to Yates, this is possibly the greatest overlooked resource in Canadian and US industries. “In a Lean organization,” he said, “Every employee is involved in creating improvement on a daily basis.” This can be achieved by applying Lean tools, including 5S.

5S

  • Sort – Separate and remove clutter and unneeded items
  • Set in Order – Organize what’s left
  • Shine/Scrub – Clean area, storage, equipment, etc. and inspect for warning signs of breakdowns
  • Schedule/Standardize – Set up 5S supply area (with resource material, labels, coloured tape, etc. ) and schedule time and responsibility for restoring work area to its proper condition regularly
  • Score/Sustain – Audit area on a regular basis, and expand 5S to other areas

“By introducing these types of Lean tactics to a web development team or agency, website projects can be completed more rapidly, precisely and resourcefully,” said Yates. “Because Lean is largely a ‘team’ thing, it tends to get groups involved in the highly imaginative process of on-going brainstorming. People have fun when they are creative, and teams have more fun than individuals.”

If stimulating a team with Lean tools increases everyone’s enjoyment, the web professionals win, and so do their clients.

About Rick Sloboda (the author of this post)

Rick Sloboda is a Senior Web Copywriter at Webcopyplus Professional Web Writing Services, which helps businesses boost online traffic and sales with optimized web copy. He speaks frequently at Web-related forums and seminars, and conducts web content studies with organizations in Europe and the U.S., including Yale University.