Monday, February 1, 2010

Lean-Its Not Just for Manufacturing Anymore

Lean is not just for manufacturing anymore! Really, lean has always been about removing waste from processes, any processes, it doesn't matter if they are manufacturing processes or office processes. So why the disconnect? Why do so many look at Lean as something that applied to the manufacturing floor but not to their office space? I think the difference is in how you think about Lean. For instance, if you consider 5S. It is very easy to see how and where 5S is applied on the shop floor. It involves the physical arrangement of the space and the tools within it. Easy to see and wrap your brain around. Move into the office and things get a little harder but you can still see removing clutter and establishing organization and homes for everything, but move into the digital office and you've got problems. To see an opportunity for 5S you have to change your thinking because the mess and lack of organization is not right out in front of you, it might be in your computer. The same 5S concepts apply to your e-document & data storage and retrieval as would if you printed it and put it on your desk.

What is the focus of the Lean office then? Productivity, Efficiency, and Customer Satisfaction. Lets consider Productivity and Efficiency. A 2008 report on global productivity by Proudfoot Consulting showed that unproductive time (defined as time spent doing things that were unproductive for the company) rose to a new high of 34.3% or roughly 1.7 days per week per employee of time wasted. The story by industry sector is not much better. See the chart below for the sector breakout.

The number one cause cited for low productivity was staffing shortages and labor issues. This is great news if your thinking about how to implement a Lean Office because this means that by streamlining your processes, removing wasteful delays, reviews and approvals, you can bridge the staffing gap and do more with the same staffing levels.

Be sure of one thing though. If you're thinking about how to become more efficient, your competition is too. The chart below shows the gap that exists by geography between potential and realized gains in productivity. This data shows Europe and North America losing ground to Asia-Pacific and BRIC regions in terms of realizing producivity gains. The really bad news in this is that the staffing shortage issues don't exist in those regions, meaning that even as they work to gain efficiency and productivity, they have no shortage of labor to bridge the gap.

Here's an example of a ripe opportunity for waste reduction. How many of us receive reports that we dont get much from? Or maybe we dont even read them at all. According to the 2008 Global Productivity Report, Managers said they needed on average 6.6 reports to do their job, but received 10 per month. Meaning that 34% of the reports created every month are not needed. How much staff time is spent preparing those reports? The chart below shows the data broken out by best and worst. In the west, we are swimming in reports! This is a waste of your time but also the people that have to put these together each month.

That covers Productivity and Efficiency but what about Customer Satisfaction? I mentioned earlier that to think about Lean in the digital age, we have to change our paradigm. In the lean digital office environment, we first must understand that everyone has a customer, internal or external, and that all customers have legitimate needs that we can fulfill. To improve customer satisfaction in the Lean Office, just as in the Lean Manufacturing setting, you must understand your value proposition. What is the thing that your customers' value from your organization. What do they need, really need, in their terms, not yours. If they were paying you, what would they want to pay for? I'll give an example to consider: Consider an Internal Training Development Team. They might say that the customer needs good quality training content, jazzy graphics, and slick animations to keep people interested. If we were to ask the customer, they would probably say that what they need are to have their people's skills enhanced so they can be more effective at their jobs. If you consider what the customer really values, you can imagine that the outcome might be very different.

Lean is not just for the shop floor anymore. Lean is universal, it applies to any process. Not every lean tool will apply in every situation but the overall lean principles of reducing non-value added activity, enhancing value added process steps, doing only those things that enhance value for the customer, making only what is needed by the customer, and continually striving to improve apply universally to all business situations.

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