Expanding Lean Manufacturing Concepts to the Office

Loyalty, enthusiasm and pride are valuable gifts from an employee to his/her company. Management can bestow another kind of gift by sharing their Lean factory program with the office staff. While “Lean” doesn’t arrive in a colorful box to be unwrapped and installed, its tangible results are visible in the positive attitudes of the employees and the increased efficiency in the factory and in the office.

Transferring Lean manufacturing concepts to the office may take some convincing. First, office employees must accept the philosophy as appropriate for their work space.  Individuals may find it hard to imagine implementing concepts originally designed for factories into a working office environment.  While they wade through company policy, orders and emails, the factory folks are already steeped in the language of Lean and comfortable with words like “kaizen” and “kanban.” How Lean relates to the office workers may not be clear, yet.

As management unwraps the colorful box filled with Lean ideas, office workers should be informed that Lean will reduce their daily stresses by eliminating office clutter and cutting costs. Clearly defining “Lean” plays a big part in how fast employees will embrace the techniques and how excited they feel about the change. Ongoing communications and education will boost employees’ understanding of this new philosophy.

Here are some common misconceptions that need to be sorted out and straightened up before lean can flourish in the office:

Myth #1   Lean is for the shop and can’t be applied or adapted to my office.

When first introduced, improving efficiency and decreasing clutter in just five steps can easily be looked upon with suspicion. A proper introduction will result in the “buy-in” necessary for success—that means showing that your company is dedicated to good results.

For example, I helped a company with a 5S Kick-off, where an entire day was devoted to Sorting and Straightening. This showed that the company was willing to let the employees invest their full time and energy to the project. People can not be expected to spend 2-to3 hours Red Tagging items and then end up back at their desks, to tackle their daily chores.  At the end of the “Sort Day” the company was thrilled to report that nearly all of their employees had Sorted to their hearts’ content, filling a myriad of dumpsters and sifting through countless file cabinet drawers.

Myth #2   Lean will require me to work faster and harder.

Lean isn’t about increasing the pace or the drudgery; it’s about allowing for increased productivity by establishing a roadmap to more efficient business methods. It’s important to show employees possible ways to implement systems and standardize processes in and around the office. I’ve seen employees’ eyes light up when they learn how to save time with their email or how to cut down on the steps to processing an order.

Myth #3 Lean Office is a management fad.

Management needs to show that Lean matters. Most companies that introduce Lean keep it because it has proven effective and results in efficiency and higher productivity. Providing regular communications with employees about the Lean process is one way to increase understanding and reinforce these new policies.

Myth #4   Lean’s language is so different I’ll probably have trouble applying it to my office.

Patience is imperative as employees begin to learn and integrate the unfamiliar language and concepts. Lean books and literature should be available in common meeting areas such as the cafeteria or break room. In-house Lean tip sheets can make learning easy, fun and practical.

Once office employees increase their confidence level with the Lean concepts, they’ll want to share improvements and ideas with their shop floor counterparts, bridging the gap between the shop and the office, and increasing loyalty, enthusiasm and pride within your company.

This article was created by the team at Organized Audrey. This material may be reprinted or reposted, but please credit the author and our website: organizedaudrey.com.

For booking or more information, please call Audrey at 952-944-9470, or visit her website www.OrganizedAudrey.com.

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