Get Lean and Boost Your Competitiveness


Dr Richard Keegan at the Enterprise Ireland Competitiveness Department outlines procedures for achieving efficiencies in your business.


Exporters to the UK now know they are faced with competitiveness challenges; so the best way to prepare for what is ahead is to tackle your competitiveness immediately.

This means gaining a clear understanding of both your strengths and weaknesses and the best way to establish that is by benchmarking against competitors and taking active steps to improve. Challenge your business to be better.

Enterprise Ireland has access to leading tools globally, including benchmarking systems that provide real information about where you stand in relation to others in your field. This provides you with the facts that every business needs to have a full appreciation of your strengths, weaknesses and the areas you need to tackle to make your business more competitive.

Enterprise Ireland’s website has invaluable information which can help you understand more about what it means to be ‘Lean’. Lean means creating more value for your customers while using fewer resources.

Our website has more than 60 case studies showing ‘Lean’ transformations in action, in businesses across Ireland, ranging from very small micro businesses to indigenous SMEs and large multinational businesses.

Since the Brexit vote, much of the focus has been on the value of sterling and its impact. While this is a crucial matter to any exporter, the fact is that management in a company can do nothing to influence currency exchange rates.

You can only change those things you have control and influence over. Therefore, in the countdown to the UK’s departure, yes, take advice on those issues that will impact you as a result of external changes— from currency to logistics to customs— but retain a clear focus on the things you can change internally too.

Address effectiveness and efficiencies internally, to make your organisation better able to respond to that which happens externally. In other words, get yourself fit.

Over the past few months, Enterprise Ireland has been sharing its knowledge about the Lean approach, with the result that the country’s Local Enterprise Offices are rolling Lean initiatives out to their clients now too, as is the IDA, in what is a now a national Lean initiative.

On May 31st, a major Lean conference will take place in Croke Park, while a nationwide road show organised by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA will bring Lean to business around the country.

The aim is to support Irish businesses of all sizes and sectors in their bid to boost competitiveness so that they may not just survive, but thrive in a post-Brexit environment.

Certainly, the need to be competitive has never been more compelling for Irish exporters. Those dependent on the UK have already found margins squeezed. To respond, managers will have considered ways of reducing their cost base by reviewing processes and procedures.

Taking a Lean approach to doing this is not something only suited to manufacturing businesses. Perhaps the most important thing about developing a Lean business is that human resource capacity and capability is a thread that runs through the entire process.

This perception has arisen because Lean principles were first developed by Toyota in Japan in the 1950s to make production more time and cost efficient. Today, Enterprise Ireland continues to work closely with the Toyota Lean Management Centre in North Wales.

While Lean is very much about technology and engineering, it is not confined to that. It runs through the whole value chain of any business, with the aim of outputting a better offering to the customer, at a better price.

Today, Lean is also widely used in services and in both the private and public sectors. Management philosophy, workforce culture and human resource development are all part of the Lean approach.

Product development and design, purchasing, administration, logistics and sales all come under its review, with the aim of working more efficiently across the organisation right through to the point of delivery and after sales service.

And people are central to successful Lean processes. Much of a person’s day job in business is spent doing what needs to be done— or fighting fires. Lean techniques ask ‘What are we trying to achieve here?’. This helps a business see what is actually being done, and the difference between the question and the answer is the competitiveness gap that needs to be bridged.

A Lean approach forces you to question what are you doing, how are you doing it, who is going to improve it and when? The result is a continuing drive to improve. The three key areas of focus are time, money and effort. It is also necessary to benchmark against your competitors on an ongoing basis.

Time: Examine how long it takes to carry out particular tasks such as processing an order, dealing with a claim, providing a service.

Effort: Look at the elements involved in getting work done. Be sure you know the value and need for every step along the way to fulfilling a particular task.

Money: Use it as a metric for identifying waste and putting a value on issues, problems and delays. Declare war on waste.

Enterprise Ireland provides clients with access to the best SME benchmarking systems and data in the world through our Lean Service Benchmarking tool. We also have checklists and other tools for the type of work-practice audit that could make the difference between remaining competitive in the UK and being priced out of the market.


To find out more, see www.enterprise-ireland.com/lean.