Lean Tip of the Month

The Principles of a Lean Office

  • Lean begins with a committed leadership team. Leaders provide the foundation upon which all Lean efforts are built. They create a vision and develop the strategy to achieve the company’s goals. They recognize the value of satisfied employees, and they are the ones who create an empowered front-line team. A company can have isolated pockets of success with grassroots Lean efforts, but until leaders fully commit, Lean won’t thrive.
  • A Lean office requires metrics and goals. Without metrics, it can be difficult to assess the impact of a change. When teams lack clear, measureable goals, people will often unwittingly work at odds with each other. 
  • A Lean office has standardized processes that are followed by everyone. It is surprising how frequently people doing the same process follow different methods. Often, personal preference rather than objective facts drive the process. When there are no set standards, it is difficult to improve a process for the whole team. 
  • A Lean office uses 5S. A disorganized office is an ineffective office. Once a standard process is established, build the office around that method. Put things where they make the most sense, and get rid of all the clutter.
  • A Lean office has minimal WIP (Work-in-Progress). A major goal of Lean is reducing or eliminating work-in-process. It speeds up lead time, reduces inconsistency in the customer experience, and eliminates a major source of waste.
  • A Lean office strives for flow. Flow is one of those concepts that you’ll know when you see. In short, it is the art of being able to have work move start to finish by the shortest means possible, all without stopping to wait in a queue. It is difficult to achieve, but a thing of beauty when accomplished.
  • Demand is well understood in a Lean office. One of the biggest challenges in creating a Lean office is understanding the variations in demand. In a manufacturing plant, managing demand is less complicated. Load leveling, smooths the demand a team experiences. But in the office, it is much more difficult to flatten out the workload. For example, you can’t answer the phone before it rings, and a customer won’t wait on hold for very long. Also, because of the customized nature of office work, it is nearly impossible to hold items in inventory.