Lean concepts basically evolve around identifying, stopping and removing wastes immediately (known as Jikoda) and Just In Time movement. Respect for the people is another very important value on which lean heavily relies on (For more on this check the earlier post “What is lean”). In very simple terms lean is about removing wastes from the system. This is certainly applicable in the context of an office.
Every office work involves wastes. But unlike in a manufacturing environment where we can physically identify wastes involved, it is harder to physically see the wastes in office. Yes, paper is wasted near photocopiers and tons of documentation happen and end in waste bin. But believe me these are only very small fraction of the total wastes you have in an office environment. So in changing office from a conventional to a lean office the hardest task may be identifying the wastes in the system. People need to look at their processors and operational models and start questioning and find new ways of doing things to offer better services to their internal and external customers.
Offices most of the times services providers. Some provide their services to internal customers when they are situated in a manufacturing facility. Your human resource department is a great example of this. Some on the other hand provide their services to external parties. Recruitment agencies are a good example for this. But in both of these cases the common factor is the customer. Every office has to serve a customer either internal or external. Every customer brings in a demand and the office needs to fulfill the demand just in time and in correct quantities. For an example if one of your factory workers requests a letter from your HR department they should provide the letter to employee with minimum possible lead time and with full accuracy.
Lean manufacturing is a topic discussed over and over again. So there are plenty of examples and how to guides available. But building a lean office can be challenging. It involves different set of people with different requirements and different backgrounds. They most of the times are not directly involved in the processes and are just service providers. Educating and making people believe that there are wastes in the system is the single most important step towards lean office.
Once people accept the fact that there are wastes in the system and they can be removed, people need to look at the places where the wastes do exist and must find ways of removing them from the system. Value stream mapping is a very valuable tool in this context. 5S activities can certainly help in unraveling the hidden wastes. Amount of emails received per day, number of unread emails in the inbox per person, number of people in the CC list are very important indicators in identifying the degree of lean application and its effect on your office.
There are certain differences in techniques involved in making your office lean than in manufacturing. But concepts do not differ from lean office to lean manufacturing. That is why gurus say “lean manufacturing techniques are unique to the implementation and concepts are global”