Monday, October 27, 2008

Lean Applies to the Office Too

Lean in the office is not about eliminating staff or resources, it is about improving the value of activities so that workers are performing duties that directly relate to the result that the customer wants. And, it’s not only for front office functions of manufacturers. Service, retail, professional, healthcare, educational, governmental, volunteer or any organization that delivers something to a customer via a process involving multiple people and activities can benefit from leaning out the processes, eliminating waste and working to the needs of the customer.

Lean focuses on five principles that can be applied to office environments as well as to production environments:

1. Value Definition
2. Process Mapping
3. Uninterrupted Flow
4. Customer Pull
5. Pursuit of Perfection

Much like the shop floor, a lean office consists of processes that have eliminated waste, minimized non-value added activities, corrected performance issues, integrated disjointed processes and automated required activities. The only real differences between the shop floor and the office are that information is usually being processed instead of actual material components and the product being delivered may be a service, not a physical item.

All too often, office improvement efforts concentrate on how to do things better rather than concentrating on what things really need to be done. By using a Lean methodology, the “how” part does not get addressed until the “what” part is defined, leaned and redefined. This methodology consists of:

  • Creating a team of process owners that fully understand the business process.
  • Performing current state process mapping activities to identify how the process works.
  • Indentifying all of the process inputs and outputs and their suppliers and customers respectively.
  • Building a future state map of what the process should be.
  • Developing a work plan that identifies what activities must be done, who will need to do the work and when these activities should be completed.

By applying the lessons learned in manufacturing and focusing on the five principles of lean, those who have embraced a Lean Office and its disciplines have made an important change to how their business operates. Getting administrative personnel focusing on continuous improvement and the customers’ needs is just as valuable as getting the shop floor to be lean in regards to the organization being competitive and profitable. The key to success in a lean environment is for the entire organization to “Be Lean”, not just “Do Lean”.