The Lean Office Approach

Lean seems to be one of the new buzzwords in business these days. However, it is far more than that. It is a business concept. In order to understand the Lean Office, you must first understand what lean means. This term was first applied by Toyota to the manufacturing side of business, as their Toyota Production System, and has been adopted by the business world at large.

Seven basic principals embody lean:

  1. Empowering people
  2. Eliminating waste
  3. Making everything as simple as possible
  4. Doing one thing at a time
  5. Keeping everything flowing
  6. Making everything visual
  7. Building in quality

The idea is to examine the production process using value stream mapping and identify where waste exists in the system. Once identified, steps can be taken to eliminate waste from the manufacturing process. This is also a means through which to help people. People often wish to improve themselves so they can contribute to the overall success of the business, but they often do not know where to begin. By using the Lean approach, they can look at their own methods and systems and reduce the waste to have a more lean performance.

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Waste does not mean only physical material; it also means waste within processes, information, and methods. For this reason, the Lean concept does not have to remain focused on the manufacturing side of the business. It can be brought into the office, where the methods, processes, and information support the manufacturing process. After all, it does not make sense to streamline the production line only to fall short in the office, where information flow directly affects the activities of the manufacturing side of the business.

What does the Lean Office look like? The idea is to eliminate waste. The seven wastes within administrative and office processes are:

  1. Overproduction – producing more information than necessary for the customer at the moment
  2. Transportation – the movement of information that is unnecessary and does not add value for the customer
  3. Motion – the movement of people that is unnecessary and does not add value for the customer
  4. Waiting – time of inactivity resulting when material, people, or equipment are not prepared
  5. Processing – labours that generate no value from the customer’s point of view
  6. Inventory – overstocking or having more information or project material available than necessary for the customer at the present time
  7. Defects – work that is incomplete or contains errors

The Lean Office affects processes in engineering, purchasing, finance, design, order processing, accounting, scheduling, and human resources.
A Lean Office does not focus on individual departments or projects. It is a business-wide initiative that links every aspect of the business together to ensure that peak efficiency is obtained throughout the enterprise as a whole. In addition, Lean Office extends beyond the “boundaries” of the business to the customers and the suppliers.

It is not enough simply to entertain the possibility of creating a Lean Office environment nor is it enough to attend workshops and have your management trained in Lean Office processes only to have them go back to their regular jobs. You need to have a plan in place to implement what you learn from lean office training. If your training occurs over one week, then plan on a second week of training that is geared toward sustaining the results. Ensure that from the top of management down, everyone is on board and working toward a Lean Office approach. Otherwise, it will end up as a failed approach to streamlining.

Creating a Lean Office affects the bottom line. Every change that is made with the Lean Office focus is made with the end result and the customer in mind. It is a way of streamlining your business so that it functions more efficiently and effectively. Without it, inefficiencies in the information flow that supports that manufacturing processes may create delays in delivering a final product to the hands of the customer, or that final product may fall short of the customer’s expectations. No business can afford this sort of catastrophe. The primary focus of any business needs to be the customer and by implementing Lean Office, you will ensure that any non-value-added waste is eliminated from the information flow of your business.

Peter Peterka is President of Lean Six Sigma us. For additional information on Six Sigma Green Belt or other Six Sigma Black Belt . offers both Live Virtual classes as well as Online Self-Paced training. Most option includes access to the same great Master Black Belt instructors that teach our World Class in-person sessions. Sign-up today!

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