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If your startup's team can use a little more organization and motivation, maybe what they need is some advice from the lean startup methodology. In this guest blog post, Designli CEO/Co-Founder and friend of the Founder Institute Keith Shields outlines how founders can implement some lean startup strategies to increase their team's productivity.

“Lean,” both as a term and a concept, has become ingrained in language of productivity over the last two decades. Lean principles were originally developed by Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno during the post-Second World War reconstruction period in Japan. They were later popularized by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones in the book Lean Thinking, published in 1996, which helped bring Lean into the mainstream.

Over time, people began to realize that Lean principles could be applied to just about any industry to achieve improvements in productivity and quality. In fact, these principles can even help small teams significantly boost their productivity and performance. Here are three ways to apply Lean concepts to your own startup team’s operations.

1. Use 5S to Get Organized

The Lean concept of 5S helps you to maintain an organized workspace, which forms a foundation for productive work. 5S stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. While these terms don’t necessarily translate precisely from the original Japanese, the ideas are simple. Remove items that are no longer needed (sort), organize the remaining items to optimize efficiency and flow (straighten), clean the workspace to more easily identify problems (shine), implement color coding and labeling for consistency (standardize), and develop repeatable behaviors that keep the workplace organized the long term (sustain).

Startup teams are often scattered across the country, or even across the globe. There’s often not a central office where tools are kept and work is performed. But even if this is the case, team members can apply these principles to their own individual workstations in their home offices or coworking spaces. Sort through accumulated piles, tossing anything that you no longer need. Go through drawers and cabinets, trashing or donating items not in use. Organize what’s left according to how often you use it, and place items you use frequently within easy reach. If you have paper files, color code and label them by category.

Take these principles to your digital world by clearing out old files and organizing working files into an easy-to-use folder system, or implement a project management tool that has built-in file organization functionality. Visual project management is another Lean principle that applies well here. Dashboards and tools that allow you to see at a glance where projects are in the process (and what’s due when) will facilitate productivity. For example, software development teams frequently use Basecamp, Asana, or Trello, all of which offer a way to visually see various overviews and configurations of client projects in process.

2. Standardize Work to Improve Efficiency

When you do things differently every time, there’s a lot of waste. You’re constantly having to reinvent the wheel. Manufacturers have standard processes for everything, so each task is done the same way, time after time. While not every job and task you do can be standardized, you’d be surprised how many of them can be.

Keeping a time log of exactly what you’re doing when for a couple of weeks and then evaluating which jobs and tasks can be put into a standardized process will illuminate the potential. You can then create process checklists with each step in each process to serve as guides for standard operations. For example, do you have a standard process for dealing with prospects? For onboarding new clients? For development? For how you deliver your product or service? For customer service? Standardization not only makes you more efficient, it also drastically reduces mistakes and oversights.

3. Use Flow to Optimize Performance

Flow refers to how work progresses through a system. When the system is working well, with good flow, it’s moving steadily. When the flow breaks down, work happens in fits and starts, which slows down the process and generates waste.

Flow is essential to productive, high-quality work. Scientists have demonstrated that multitasking is a myth when it comes to non-reflexive activities. When we say we’re multitasking, we’re simply switching between a variety of tasks, one at a time. And we’re not doing a very good job at any of them. Instead, we should focus on one task at a time.

Practically, this means that you’ll get your work done more quickly and see better quality in your work if you close down email and notifications for periods of time (typically between an hour or two). This space allows you to concentrate and produce your best work efficiently, creating flow. Interruptions break the flow, so you should try to minimize them as much as possible. At the same time, your team needs to communicate. So it’s smart to create a system for team members to set “do not disturb” zones and timeframes — either in a physical office or online. Colleagues will then know when it’s ok to interrupt, and when they need to wait for a little while.

We recommend doing a “Lean overhaul” of your team’s operations, getting the team set up for success. Then, periodically review your systems to make sure everything’s working like you expected. Look for new ways to apply these principles, streamlining even more. As you increase your team’s efficiency and quality, you’ll likely be watching your success rise at the same time.

Designli is a digital product studio in Greenville, South Carolina, focused on building beautiful custom apps and mobile-responsive web-apps for startups and entrepreneurs. Click here to learn more.

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