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Top 5 Lean Office Pitfalls

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Although many contract manufacturing (CM) companies have applied “Lean” practices to their back-end manufacturing, some don't realize that 70-95% of all costs associated with meeting customer needs are administrative by nature. Wasteful front end processes can often result in unnecessary costs, longer lead times, and reduced quality.

But applying lean principles to an office can be less straightforward than you'd think. Some businesses may overcomplicate "lean tools" while others may forget their core objectives. Most, however, simply do not learn from others' mistakes. Keep these five simple pitfalls in mind before drafting your Lean Office strategy.

5 Lean Office Pitfalls

  • Unclear understanding of process and product flow
  • Unclear understanding of waste

  • Lack of clear data for measuring office-related wastes

  • Lean strategies not aligned with company’s key objectives

  • Lean tools are sometimes wasteful in and of themselves

An unclear understanding of waste is perhaps most easily solvable. Lean as a concept is built on identifying seven types of waste—transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over processing, and defects. These activities do not add value to a product. Reducing them, or eliminating them completely, is essential to any productive enterprise.

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An unclear understanding of process and product flow can be solved using these guiding principles: simplicity, speed, flexibility, visibility, and accountability. When assessing whether or not your office flows, keep these principles in mind. Even if you’ve already implemented lean office practices, continuous improvement is vital to maintaining flow, especially as services, employees, and customers change over time.

Finding clear data to measure office-related waste can be tricky. Whereas waste on the manufacturing floor can be measured using per-unit cost or defect metrics, office-related processes are not as easy to define and measure. Time wasted in manufacturing, for example, can be measured by adding the total idle time of machines and operators. In an office, however, idle time is hard to determined due to the variability of a given task’s nature and complexity. Solving this issue requires a systematic procedure that works with your business’ culture and objectives.

Lean strategies that do not align with a company’s objectives can add more wasteful processes, rather than reduce them.  A company should be clear about which processes require leaning down, why it needs to be addressed, and what the intended result is. As a general rule, focus on processes directly related to delivering value to customers.

Lean tools are sometimes wasteful in and of themselves. Lean tools allow management to target and eliminate wasteful processes. Value stream mapping (VSM), for example, can be a useful tool for identifying wastes in your office’s current value stream. Management is then able to reimagine ideal, value-adding office processes. Yet VSMs are only effective when carefully crafted and executed. You might spent time and resources making changes that could ultimately disrupt existing processes, without realizing your desired results. Instead, make changes based on employee input and clear business goals.