How to Translate Lean Manufacturing Principles Into Your Office Functions, Part 1

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by | Aug 9, 2022

A “Lean Office” can save time and money. But why and how can lean principles translate to administrative functions? Part 1 in a two-part series on Lean Office for Rhode Island manufacturers.

The lean manufacturing movement came out of a desire to reduce waste and inefficiencies and improve productivity in the operation. Many Rhode Island 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 the office functions of your RI manufacturing company will save you time, and ultimately, money, by addressing these common issues:

  • Non-value-added time spent on tasks
  • Delays in communication
  • Lack of proper information flow

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.

WHY the Benefits of a Lean Office Begin With Standardization

The common belief has been that office work varies too much to be standardized. “It is not a production line,” the argument goes.

Yet, as Lean guru Nathan Bonds will explain in an August info session, it is the lack of standard office processes that often results in inconsistent information quality, which typically requires extended time to address and correct.

Rhode Island manufacturers who apply lean principles to their office will:

  • Improve processing time and handoffs through reduction of steps and processes. You might be surprised by how many unnecessary tasks or touch points exist in a typical office based on “how we do things.”
  • Provide greater control of information flow. It’s easier to tweak a systematic approach than a casual process.
  • Lead to better and more responsive problem solving. Issues will emerge more quickly and be easier to identify.

WHAT Does a Lean Office Look Like?

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.

Purchase orders.

Let’s say your shop operates on a 30-day lead time from receiving an order to delivery. Are there set parameters for breaking down that lead time? Does it align with who needs the most time to fulfill the order? How soon are all stakeholders even made aware of the order?

Scheduling. 

If a work schedule never holds up and someone downstream is frequently adjusting it, chances are the creation of the schedule is not a value-add process. The process may even create more work. Apply lean principles as you would to solve an operational bottleneck or an inventory issue.

Batch processing.

This also applies to periodic or unpredictable processing of documents. This often is done for the convenience of one staff member who may not realize that they are batching and certainly is not aware of the negative impact it has on downstream processes.

Data collection.

Do you have set processes for the data? Many manufacturers have gaps in communications or wait until the end of the month or a set period before looking at the data. And that may be OK, but if this information is going to impact the supply chain, people need to know, and know promptly.

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?

 

In the next post, we’ll suggest HOW to get started with a Lean Office mindset at your organization. If you are ready to get started ASAP, register for our August 25 info session on “Unlocking the Benefits of Lean Office.”

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Polaris MEP is the Rhode Island Center for the MEP National NetworkTM, whose mission it is to strengthen and empower small and medium-sized manufacturing companies in the United States. This series of articles was originally published at https://www.nist.gov/blogs/manufacturing-innovation-blog/how-translate-lean-principles-your-office-functions

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