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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The 8 Common Wastes in an Office That Cause Downtime

Applying Lean to office processes is an often misunderstood concept. Many efforts at lean office often fall by the wayside since measuring improvement is nearly impossible. It is important to analyze the office processes themselves to determine how to apply lean appropriately. The best way to accomplish this is to first understand how the seven wastes of manufacturing apply to office processes to identify improvement opportunities.

To identify and eliminate the waste that plagues your office, learn to identify the 8 wastes in their manifestations.  Here is a list of the 8 common wastes of Lean, and some ideas about how they manifest in the office environment.

Defects & Inspection
This is work that you thought was complete but requires to be touched again due to not meeting the customer's needs. Inspection is the same as review and this is in the flow because our internal customer doesn’t trust that we can deliver what they want. This leads to more reworking of defects, but we have to fix the process to produce a good product.
       Order entry errors
       Design errors or engineering change orders
       Invoice errors
       Lost files or records
       Bad or Missing information

Over Production
This is the act of producing more than what the customer wants instead of providing what they need or actually paid for.  This is a fast way to lose customers as it requires more time and resources, something that is in short supply.
       Producing reports that no one reads or needs
       Making extra copies just-in-case
       Producing more to avoid set-ups
       Entering repetitive information on multiple documents
       Memos or email to everyone

A period of time delay spent while expecting something to happen or ready for something to happen. Waiting waste is idle time created when material, information, people or equipment is not ready.
       Waiting for approvals or signatures
       Attendees not all on time for meeting
       Slow system response time
       Delays in receiving information
       Printer or computer break-down

Non-Utilized People or Knowledge
People’s skill, abilities, and knowledge are not effectively or appropriately used. This happens frequently in large organizations where the skills and backgrounds of everyone are not common knowledge. The biggest crime in this category is not empowering or enabling the people most intimate with a process to improve the process.
       Bypassing procedures to hire a favorite candidate
       Start using software without prior training
       Not providing opportunity for professional development
       Limited authority and responsibility for basic tasks
       Inadequate business tools / training available

This is where you have to take the product you are working on and move it somewhere.  That act of moving does not change fit, form, or function.  We are usually taking it to the boss to drop it off on their desk be reviewed, so we can rework it later.  I see a pattern developing here.
       Moving product in and out of storage
       No signs identifying areas or departments
       Multiple hand-offs or approvals
       Bad area layout
       Excessive filing of documents

Inventory is a common result of multi-tasking and otherwise un-balanced workloads.  It can be found in e-mail or work order in-boxes, to-do lists, product development pipelines, and resource assignment charts.  If a person has three tasks to complete, it is guaranteed that two of them are waiting (in inventory) while that person performs the third.  If you want to be able to see inventory like you do on the factory floor, you must make the lists, in-boxes, resource assignments, and project pipelines visible in your workspace.
       Excessive office supplies
       Files piled up between desks
       No storage space because its filled with stuff not needed
       Batch processing transaction & reports
       Obsolete files or office equipment
       No sufficient cross-training

Excess motion primarily refers to people having to walk to office equipment or (even more importantly) having to walk to find people. Meetings are motion in the sense that they are work without producing, unless a decision is made or information is produced during the meeting. Motion shows up as people search for files they can’t find, in phone calls to track down information, or from unnecessary button clicks to get to the bottom of a work order to update the to-do list.
       Looking for items without a defined place
       Searching for files on computer
       Employees not working to a standard method
       Poor work area layout
       Sorting through materials

Excess Processing
Excess processing often results from the creation of multiple versions of a piece of work that now must be reconciled into the true work.  It shows up in additional signature approvals, data entry or data format changes, frequently revising documents or information, or complex forms or databases that require information to be entered repeatedly. 
       Multiple signatures
       Unused or unnecessary information collected
       Re-entering data
       Different software working on same document
       Unnecessary or excessive reports

My best advice for finding and eliminating waste in the office is to find what bugs you.  Hunt down the rework, the overtime, the stress and frustration, and you will quickly begin putting your fingers on the waste and its causes. Address the causes of the waste.  Eliminate them.  In doing so, you will not only make your business more productive, but it will be a much better place to work.

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  1. Very true. It is sometimes hard to be in an office and see the wastes but not empowered to make changes.

  2. Good Job! Sometimes we get exemples from lean manufacturing and it is hard to translate them for an office or engineering development environment. Thanks!

  3. I have recently changed careers to an office setting from manufacturing for 16 years. We were taught the principles of lean manufacturing. I am struggling to see the waste in the office, it is driving me insane! I tried to explain the waste and got shot down. Any suggestions to approach management on the ideas of lean?

    1. Find a manager who will listen, if there are none, the place is probably not a long term solution for employment. Waste promotes a hidden agenda to fight change and in this day and age if you aren't changing or continuously improving you will fall to the wayside.