Leveraging Lean Office Principles

Leveraging lean manufacturing principles to develop an efficient, competent and adaptable lean office culture is not a new idea, but one that has grown more urgent in recent years with the many challenges manufacturers face every day.

Lean manufacturing developed from the need to reduce inefficiencies, eliminate waste and improve operational productivity. The continuous improvement approach, fundamental to those lean manufacturing principles, has expanded since to include elements such as data analysis,  workforce development and leaning out a company’s office processes and functions.

Similar to how values are assigned to operational processes and functions, you can do the same in the front office. Lean principles help optimize procurement, accounting, human resources, sales, marketing and customer support processes. Bringing lean principles to the office saves time and money, by addressing these common issues:

  • Non value add tasks worked on and time spent
  • Communication delays
  • Lack of proper information flow

Often, there is a barrier that exists between the operational and office functions. They are both critically important, but may not understand the role the other plays, what is done “over there” and how productivity can be unleashed if they are aligned better to work together. That barrier inhibits transparency, innovation and efficiency and needs to be removed.

The benefits of a lean office begin with standardization despite the common myth that office work varies too much to be standardized. That myth is exposed when appropriate and standardized processes are implemented, information flow improves, information gaps closed and coordinated communication established. It becomes clear that much of the time spent on non value added or non standardized tasks can be eliminated which frees up that time to be applied to the relevant work.

Overall, applying lean principles to an office will:

  • Improve processing time and handoffs through reduction of steps and processes.
  • Provide greater control of information flow.
  • Lead to better and more responsive problem solving.

When done correctly, each office function produces something – procurement produces purchase orders; accounting several types of reports; HR company policies etc. Examining an example can shed more light on the benefits.

Take scheduling for example. If a work schedule is obsolete as soon as it is distributed and people downstream constantly have to adjust it, odds are good the schedule development process falls into the non value add bucket and should be optimized. The current process is not only inefficient for execution, but it create additional work to manage it. If that wasted time and effort could be saved and redirected effectively, the schedule would work as planned and other important tasks could be prioritized.

Getting started with implementing lean into an office setting includes mapping the processes and using 5S to unearth problems and drive solutions.

Breaking down office processes and functions includes identifying:

  • Value Stream Mapping. How does the task get done? Who does what as it moves through the organization?
  • Value-add vs. non-value-add. With each touch point, what value is being added to the organization? Are there redundancies? Is all the information being used or can you eliminate touch points?

A recommended way for mapping the processes and functions is Swimlane Mapping. Envision a swimming pool with defined lanes representing different departments or people in the office. Work through each process and function to see how it flows through the organization to its expected “finish line”. Swimlane mapping often reveals inefficiencies and unneeded touch points which will help establish improvements.

Keys to a lean office are:

  • Consistent support from company leadership
  • Constant internal messaging
  • Documenting the process steps and goals
  • Training to reinforce best practices
  • Celebrating the results and benefits achieved

As is the case on the operational side, the key to a successful lean office is the work culture. Developing a culture focused on and rewarded for continuous improvement will provide advantages over the competition and the office, along with the operations, is a vital piece of that puzzle.

Please contact Prosit for assistance in any of your lean office needs or questions. We look forward to working with you to realize the results leaning out your office can bring.

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