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Lean Initiatives in the Office

Lean_manufactory_houseWhy implement Lean in the Office?

If you think Lean only applies to industry and manufacturing processes, you are wrong! Here’s why:

  • The operational efficiency of a company should not be simply restricted to the “production” side of the activity. The rapid delivery and manufacture of products is never enough if your clients are waiting for business proposals, estimates and so on. On the same level, if there is a backlog of invoicing anomalies, the receipt of clients’ money is delayed.
  • A good service offer using a minimum of resources with a short lead time is not only the responsibility of the manufacturing department. The research and development department, procurement, production control and logistics, human resources and information technology departments are all “support” services. For “production” to be efficient, all these internal suppliers need to contribute as appropriate.

In conclusion, everyone within a manufacturing firm, or any other type of firm, is concerned by the notion of Lean “Office.”

The potential for progress is enormous.

According to Northcote Parkinson’s theorem (1909-1993): over and above a certain size, an “Office” style organization can generate enough work to busy itself with!  Or, in other words “Offices end up giving each other work to do.”

There is no denying that the driving forces behind Parkinson’s Law are linked to human nature and there is absolutely no reason why they should not apply to commercial or industrial set-ups. In such contexts, even if the implications are weaker than those described by Parkinson in administrative situations, to neglect them would be like depriving oneself of an important source of progress.

To conclude: An “Office” organization when complying with an external need can shift from the customer focus to a point whereby it functions independently. A bit like when the formulas on a page of your spreadsheet are interconnected by circular references. The difference being that your spreadsheet automatically tells you of the problem and asks you to solve it.

Have you set up an alarm system or organized preventive measures to counter the effects of Parkinson’s Law in your company?

Sources of progress can be organized into three groups.

  1. The clarification of the roles and responsibilities and the objectives for each department in relation to the other internal clients.
  2. The communication between members of a given department and departments.
  3. The organization of information flows.

Below is a list of some of these sources of progress to give you an initial overview.

  • The clarification of the roles and responsibilities and the objectives for each department in relation to the other internal clients.
    • Knowing the internal clients and their needs without losing sight of the external clients’ needs.
    • Respect for the principle of Auto-Quality.
    • How delegation is organized.
  • The communication between members of a given department and departments.
    • The waste at the interface between departments caused by the existence of organizational silos.
    • A lack of understanding of the information flows between the different internal clients.
    • Everyday communication between members of a same department and between departments.
  • The organization of information flows.
    • Information systems tend not to converge.
    • The inelasticity of the IT systems which, over time, no longer correspond to organizational evolution.
    • The absence of an “owner-user” who is responsible for information flows other than those in the IT department.

About Charles Intrieri

Charles Intrieri is subject matter expert on Cost Reduction, Supply Chain, and 3rd Party Logistics. He is also an author on Flevy (view his documents materials). Managing his own consultancy for the past 25 years, Charles has helped dozens of clients achieve leaner and more efficient operations. You can connect with him here on LinkedIn or email him directly ([email protected]). Charles also has a presentation Why Lean Fails in a Company? available for free download here.

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