The Lean Office: Eliminate Process Flab

The lean office system cuts down human effort, investment and working hours to alter how work is done, and thus increases output. Organizations which effectively adopt lean office techniques boost their performance hugely and raise the production per hour worked.

In modern management jargon the term lean was first coined by John Krafcik of MIT, but the original Lean models were first developed by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota in the early 1950’s. These concepts have been honed over the years and are also known as the Toyota Production System.

For a long time manufacturers outside Japan were puzzled by the Japanese knack in churning out high quality automobiles at a low cost. It took some time for the other players to catch on the lean modus operandi and reap the ensuing benefits.

Although Lean was originally developed for the factory shop floor, many lean methods used in lean production directly apply to the office environment. Office operations can also be improved by introducing principles of Lean manufacturing modified to suit office needs. This is so because the office creates just as much waste in time and manpower.

To implement Lean principles in office processes, it is essential to remove waste. From the lean point of view, waste can be defined as anything that does not directly add to or support the creation of stakeholder value.

A lean office leads to many employee advantages. There is scope for cross-functional worker training, constant progress, more accountability coupled with increased contentment.

The customer benefits of a lean office are also manifold. Keeping in mind the marketing mantra that in an open market the customer is the king, a lean office delivers increased flexibility, fewer faults and faster service. All of these lead to greater customer contentment.

The organization also reaps monetary benefits by inculcating lean office methods. It gets a better return on labor investment optimum use of the organization’s resources lead to improved revenues and profit.

An evaluation of the waste that exists in your office operations will help you to identify the occasions for streamlining the work to produce a more efficient office. So even though Lean is considered as a tool for the plant, manufacturers improve their overall output to two to three times as much by including Lean in office operations.

There are some simple steps to commence a lean office. First determine the information flow. The staff involved in the information flow is part of the team that establishes the flow. The information flow should be documented; this is known as process mapping. It allows you to evaluate the flow of information, so you can identify areas of waste or repetitive actions.

Waste elimination is the lifeline of a lean office. Introduce ideas to determine low-cost suggestions that can be implemented immediately. The lean team should focuses on the elimination of constraints, standardization of processes and removal or minimization of wasteful practices. Lastly chalk out a Process Map that details the current state and the future state.

There are many differences in applying lean to the plant and lean to the office environment. On a manufacturing shop floor, most value creation is performed by machines and there is a flow of material from machine to the next. In the office most value creation is performed by people and there is a flow of information from one personnel to the next. But people are not the same as machines.

A machine can be moved without it grumbling, and once a machine is moved it stays put. But shuffling staff is a different ball game. Although people are more flexible over machines they are harder to change than machines. If moved employees often exhibit the rubber band effect i.e. with a bit of pressure they can snap right back to their former position where they were comfy.

You may use grease to remove friction in machines but in case of people the lean office requires an effective leadership to achieve success. Therefore the concepts behind lean office remain the same their execution must be tuned to the needs of a human work force.

Many management woes can be overcome by the lean office. Work flows horizontally through any organization. But management is a top down or vertical process. This places the vertical management at loggerheads to the horizontal process of creating value.

Lean office adds a discipline of managing value to managing skills. Lean office requires staff to rely more on leadership than a strict control hierarchy. Leadership highlights the way, inspiring shared values and cheers the heart, enabling others to do things gung ho as opposed to giving orders. Leadership involves skills such as inspiration, persuasion, and creativity. The Lean office leadership goal is that employees agree to be led in the pursuit of value creation and waste reduction.

Peter Peterka is President of Lean Six Sigma Training US. For additional information on Six Sigma Green Belt or other Six Sigma Black Belt programs contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

Published 09/3/2008