"Just-in-time management" is an industry phrase that means manufacturing products as you need them. In lieu of stocking huge inventories of raw materials, businesses order them when needed, use them, and then ship the finished product. This practice allows you to have what you need when you need it, reduces excess spending, and expands your cash reserve. Here are a few ways in which your operation can be just in time:

Look at your inventory. Think of excess inventory as idle money. It's just sitting on your shelf, doing nothing. Even as a service business, you have inventory in the form of equipment, forms, and supplies. Control your inventory by calculating how much and how often you use each item. Then set a minimum to be kept on hand, and reorder a predetermined amount each time the supply falls below the minimum level. You don't want to lose money in the process. So factor in the turnaround delivery time of your suppliers, noting any premium charges you may incur for a rush request that may be too costly.

Evaluate your computer usage. Are you maximizing its efficiency? Many communication tools can be stored on your system - correspondence, marketing materials, proposals, contracts, budgets, invoices, and the like. You can update and customize these materials at will, and you can recycle formats and phrases from document to document. You can also slice some of your printing costs by keeping your communication tools stored on your system and getting reproductions made only when you need to, based on more thoughtful estimates (rather than getting stacks of materials needlessly run off, only to have them sit in your supply closet, collecting dust).

Or your computer-generated materials can have dual purposes. For example, my ace graphic artist, Joe Aguirre, has designed for me a presenter's information sheet that includes digitized photographs. I am able to print out from my home-office system high-quality copies for presentation and proposals. And I am able to have photocopies of the same document made at will to distribute at workshops, conferences, and networking events.

Scrutinize your people resources. You'll be able to manage overflow work more efficiently when you have a network of professionals on whom to call. You'll need to spend time cultivating relationships with skilled individuals who are available upon demand. Let your peers know that you're looking for people to work with. Then check them out and test them on a few nonrush projects first.

Consider other areas where you can put just-in-time management to work in your business. A little thought this week can go a long way toward maximizing all your business resources.

Copyright © 1999 Kimberly Stansell. All Rights Reserved.