The lean manufacturing process minimizes waste without sacrificing productivity. The goal is to improve customer value. It may sound all business, but we can also apply it to writing. By following the lean approach, you can become a faster, more productive writer.
Lean is today implemented across industries. Customer support teams use it in dealing with support tickets. Software companies use it to develop digital products. Factories around the world rely on it to minimize costs.
The five principles of lean are flow, value, waste, pull, and perfection. Applied correctly to writing, they can help you to get more work done and improve your writing. Let’s take a deeper look at each of them and see how they can help our writing.
Flow, or the Rhythm of Your Writing
This stage of the lean manufacturing process is as much about rhythm as it is about learning from bottlenecks. Remember the last time you felt inspired and how easily words filled up the screen. Your writing had a good rhythm.
But flow applies to more than the rhythm of the writing itself. It encompasses the rhythm at which you finish projects.
Say that you always finish the writing projects you work on before deadlines. But don’t you struggle more with some than with others? Many writers find that their rhythm slows down at times. So much, that at times they begin to feel annoyed or frustrated.
That’s why it’s important to look for bottlenecks in recently completed projects. Sometimes it’s not the actual process of writing that slows you down, but the research.
Without this analysis, the same issues may repeat again and again, slowing down the flow of your writing. You may still get the work done on time, but you’d spend more time and effort on your tasks.
The crucial thing is to consider how you actually spend your writing time. Maybe you are spending a lot of time on writing introductions or conclusions.
Or maybe you have a hard time coming up with engaging titles or subheadings. Whatever it is, it can have a negative impact on the flow of your writing.
But if you analyze how you spend time you can identify the problem areas. You could then read a guide on how to carry out research more effectively. Or read some tips on writing better introductions.
Set Yourself a Daily Word Count
Also, you can set yourself a daily word count, to help maintain a more consistent writing rhythm.
In this way, your writing improves and you can move on to the next stage of the lean process.
We may not think of blog posts or website content as products. And that’s okay — we don’t have to. But similar to physical products sold in a store, they need to provide value.
Our writing provides value when it’s informative and entertaining.
Knowing Your Readers
The key to providing value through your writing is to present the right ideas, and to do it clearly. This is true whether you are writing creatively or writing a technical manual. You need to consider who you are writing for.
Ideally, your writing both informs and entertains. More than that, it creates interest and may even generate excitement. Focus on the reader and choose your ideas and arrange them in a way that makes them easy to absorb and useful.
Just as a manufacturing process can be wasteful, so can writing. Think of unfinished drafts, unedited articles, or even poems that you haven’t had the time to proofread.
A list of notes or ideas that isn’t put to use can also be wasteful. Also wasteful can be work that nobody ever reads, unless of course we are talking about your diary.
When Too Much Research Becomes Wasteful
But waste can also be applied to other parts of the writing process like research or editing. For example, using four or five sources for researching an article may not provide enough value to justify the extra time you invest in them. You may find that it’s more effective to use only two or three sources.
Also wasteful can be worrying too much about style. Sometimes, style can actually get in the way when all you need to do is present information as clearly as possible.
This part of the lean process is all about prioritizing projects so that the ones closest to completion get done first. Imagine that you are working on multiple writing projects.
One is nearly finished but it still needs editing or proofreading before you can mark it as complete. But you don’t look forward to the editing because the topic isn’t to your liking.
So you may feel tempted to begin the next project and leave it to later in the day, or to the following day. If you’re not hard pressed by a deadline, you could do that of course. But seen in terms of the lean approach, that incomplete project could be seen as waste.
Unfinished Projects Should Come First
You avoid that waste by completing unfinished projects first. The simple rule here is that you don’t start a new project until after you complete the current one.
It’s a simple rule that can pull projects to completion faster and also improve the rhythm of your writing.
A product can never be perfect, no matter how much money the company behind it spends on marketing. The same is true for writing. Writing is natural. Writing is human. So it can only be perfect in its imperfection.
Perfection then can only mean a continual effort to improve quality. Admittedly, it can be hard to measure the quality of a piece of writing. But a good approach is to measure the response the writing generates.
Engagement as a Measure of Quality
Does the audience like it and comment on it? Does it generate traffic and sales? When you strive for perfection in writing, you strive for engagement.
But it’s not only the amount of engagement that matters, but also its quality. Two long, thoughtful comments can be more valuable than ten comments that just promote links.
Quality improvement is an integral aspect of the lean process and it’s something that you should aim for in writing too.
By analyzing your past work, you can find bottlenecks in your writing process. When you know what holds you back, you can fix it to improve the flow of your writing.
By putting your readers first, you make your writing clearer and more valuable.
By finishing what you start before moving on to new projects you minimize waste. You pull projects to completion.
Finally, by continually striving to improve your writing and generating a bigger and bigger response in your audience, you improve quality.
By doing all of this, you take the successful lean concept and apply it to writing to write more and to write better.