Drew Locher (LEI): Creating Lean Flow in Office and Service Processes

A view on how to apply lean concepts in office and service workspaces, common pitfalls and four key steps to focus on for success.


  • Companies tend to focus strictly on lean “tools,” and fail to fundamentally change how work is performed and how it flows
  • Lack of alignment to an organization’s strategy and key business objectives. The lean office and service effort should focus on the key business processes that directly affect the organization’s ability to deliver value to its customers
  • Tendency to make isolated changes within departments and functions. The application of any lean tool must be done in the context of the overall business process re-design in order to realize the full benefits

Basic steps to the application of lean in office and service workplaces

  1.  Stabilize: The objective of this step is to create predictable and repeatable outputs. In manufacturing environments, inspection and test operations provide this assurance.  However, in office and service environments, the “product” is not as tangible, so it can be more difficult to assure the quality of the output.  In service environments in particular, the near real-time creation and consumption of a service can make quality assurance problematic.
  2. Standardize: Develop practices consistently followed by all people who perform the process and/or the activities linked to the process. To streamline or simplify work, lessen process duration and make nonstandard conditions more easily recognizable.
  3. Make Visible: Our key objective with this step is to have the workplace “speak” to us. Visual communication is the most effective and efficient method of communication. In the beginning, organizations will make performance more visible.  This is a good first step.  However, much more can be accomplished, but only once your processes and activities have been standardized.
  4. Improve (Continuously): You may choose to begin with changes on a smaller scale, within existing departments or functions. You’ll achieve local improvements first, which will lay a foundation for broader changes to be made in the future.  Alternately, you might choose to start off with the redesign of entire value streams.  In other words, you’ll choose an approach that works for your situation. Continuous improvement needs to be part of your organization’s culture. This requires visual management techniques, a learning environment where it’s safe for experimentation, personnel development practices to sustain the system even in the event of a change in leadership and leaders who deeply understand lean, who can sustain and even improve the system, and who can teach it to others

Source: http://www.lean.org/common/display/?o=2215

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