By Keith Groves, Manufacturing Consultant, University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services
The lean manufacturing movement came out of a desire to reduce waste and inefficiencies and improve productivity in the operation. Many manufacturers have also benefited from the resulting continuous improvement mindset as engaged employees became empowered to change things for the better.
Just as you assign a value to the benefit of things in the operation, you can do the same in the front office. Lean principles also apply to traditional scheduling functions, finance, even sales and marketing. Bringing lean principles to your manufacturing office will save you time, and ultimately, money, by addressing these common issues:
There often is a huge wall that separates office functions from manufacturing operations. Each side may not understand what the other side does and how they do it. A lean office mindset will help with transparency and breaking down that wall.
The common belief has been that office work varies too much to be standardized. It is not a production line, the argument goes. Yet, it is the lack of standard office processes that often results in inconsistent information quality, which often requires extended time to address and correct. Applying lean principles to an office will:
Every office function produces something – the procurement department employees produce purchase orders; some areas produce an approval or a report. Let’s look at some examples of how lean concepts can help reduce variability in office functions.
Many manufacturers understand the importance of how sales projections impact supplies, production staffing and delivery times. What other information should be treated with the same discipline?
Implementing lean in an office setting includes mapping the processes and applying the 5S principles. There often are shared attributes in the information processed in manufacturing offices (multiple departments rely on the information), so there may not be the need to do value stream mapping as you would for a production line.
Breaking down an office task includes identifying:
Mapping the office functions may be done with a simple flow chart (who does what in a sequence), but it often is better to use swimlane mapping. Think of a swimming pool with lanes being different departments or people in the office. You can easily map who does what as the document moves toward its finish line. Swimlane mapping often reveals inefficiencies and unneeded touch points, which are easily seen if your map reveals the document itself frequently changes lanes as it moves through the office. Your process may be overly complex.
And it wouldn’t be “lean” if we did not apply the 5S principles to the office:
As is the case on the operational side, the key to a successful lean office is the work culture. The must-have list begins with having the right people in the room and buy-in from leadership. Keys to a lean office are:
One of the great ironies of office communications is that workplaces with fewer people often are among the least effective in communicating with each other. Few small manufacturers practice lean principles in their offices.
No matter the size of the manufacturing office, you must create trust, so people are empowered to solve problems and not be afraid to make mistakes. A local Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program center can help implement a lean/continuous improvement approach in your office.
For more information, visit www.nist.gov/mep/centers.