On the Quest for a Lean Office

Back in January, Timothy Schipper published an important new book about transforming workplace culture entitled The Highly Effective Office: Creating a Successful Lean Culture in Any Workplace. I spoke with him on the phone recently and asked him: “How can Lean work just as well in the office as it does in manufacturing?” Here is his complete response:

When David Mann (author of Creating a Lean Culture) suggested to me to write a book about how Lean could be successfully applied in the office, I was a bit reluctant at first. The scale of the project was daunting.  He encouraged me, however, and said if I don’t tell the story of how it was being done in organizations, the story wouldn’t be told. 

The story begins with wondering if Lean concepts could be transferred from manufacturing and be applied effectively in the office?  And could Lean principles be applied to build a culture of continuous improvement in any workplace?  It turns out that the transfer of Lean principles from the concrete floors of manufacturing to the carpeted areas of the office required some fresh approaches and counter-intuitive ideas. 

As the story unfolds, it turns out that Lean does transfer from manufacturing to the office. While the principles of wastes eliminate and flow through a value stream apply, “some translation is required."  The wastes in the office value stream are hidden from view and not in plain site as is inventory between machines in the manufacturing. Because of this, wastes must be exposed. Mapping the informational value streams of office work reveals the waste in the system.  Once the wastes are in plain view, then work can be done to improve what are typically push systems with pull systems that are more visual.

The opportunities for removing wastes from the information value streams in the office can yield dramatic improvements in flow.  To build the practice of making these improvements into the culture requires employee involvement with the support of the leaders.   

The Highly Effective Office describes a road map for the journey of building a Lean culture in the workplace by providing methods to build a workplace that engages both the knowledge worker and the leader in continuous improvement. 

What do you think of  Tim's perspective? Have you applied Lean in the office environment and mapped the value stream?


How Do Service Organizations Translate Lean Principles into Sustainable Practices?

In January, Karyn Ross published  a new and very important book entitled How to Coach for Creativity and Service Excellence: A Lean Coaching Workbook -- It is a self-contained workbook, in which the reader completes twenty-one days of practical exercises and activities focused on creativity, Lean, and coaching (one set per day). These exercises enable readers to develop their capability and confidence to be creative, adapt Lean principles, practices and tools to their unique service organization, and coach others to do the same.

I had a chance to meet and discuss the book with Karyn during the recent KataCon5 conference in Savannah, Georgia. One of the questions I asked her was: “Why do service organizations struggle to translate Lean principles into sustainable practices?” Here is her complete and enlightening answer:

Michael, that’s a great question. And, as a Lean coach, consultant and practitioner who has only worked in services, I could give you any of the traditional answers you might expect:

•             Lean is for manufacturing.

•             Senior leadership doesn’t really support it.

•             Lean is just another "flavor of the month."

But while all these may be contributing factors, over the years, I’ve come to understand that the real reason people in service organizations struggle to turn Lean principles into sustainable practices is the same reason people in manufacturing organizations struggle: They aren’t able to overcome what I call the long list of "I can’ts" -- those underlying assumptions that each of us has about what is and what isn’t possible. Possible for our organization, our team, and for each of us as individuals:

  • “We can’t possibly customize our service for every customer. There are too many of them!”
  • “I can’t ask my team for 100% accuracy. It’s demotivating and they can’t do it.
  • “I can’t work more efficiently. I know the way I do this is the best way.”

As a Lean community, we’ve spent a lot of time focused on tools and some time on principles. But, we haven’t spent any time at all helping people learn how to use their innate creativity. That’s why this book, written as a workbook, focuses so heavily on two factors: 

  1. Coaching people to use my simple, disciplined, practical approach to PDCA so that anyone, at any level of the organization, can generate creative ideas to overcome those “I can’ts."
  2. How to then turn those creative ideas into more effective and efficient ways to work by adapting Lean principles such as flow, leveling, and standard work in services.   

These factors ensure that customers are satisfied – now and for the long-term -- and the organization will be able to fulfill its purpose. And, whether you’re in services – or manufacturing – that’s exactly what sustainable Lean practices are all about!

Do any readers work for service or transactional organizations that are applying Lean principles to achieve excellence? What do you think of Karyn's perspective?


Reactive Improvement and Effective Daily Management

In December, Ross Kennedy published a book entitled Understanding, Measuring, and Improving Daily Management: How to Use Effective Daily Management to Drive Significant Process Improvement . This book explains the critical parts of a continuous improvement strategy to achieve operational excellence and where reactive improvement through effective daily management fits in.

During a recent conversation with Ross, I asked him: “What is reactive improvement and why aren’t more companies embracing it?” Here is his complete answer:

To achieve operational excellence, organizations need a continuous-improvement strategy that includes reactive improvement to ensure you have effective daily management, stable production, or work plan to minimize fire-fighting caused by unplanned changes and proactive Improvement to take you to your improvement vision of world-class performance. Unfortunately, many organizations get so focused on proactive improvement through capital projects or operational excellence initiatives such as Lean, Six Sigma, or Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), that they lose sight of the importance of reactive improvement and having a stable production or work plan.

Reactive improvement develops the capability and discipline within the organization to be able to rapidly recover from an event or incident that stops you from achieving your expected or target performance for the day, shift, or hour and most importantly, your ability to capture the learning and initiate corrective actions so that the event or incident will not re-occur anywhere across the organization.

As such, reactive improvement focuses on improving daily management through your daily review meetings, your information centers supporting the daily review meetings, and your problem-solving root cause analysis capability at all levels, especially at the frontline.There are seven key elements of reactive improvement that must work in concert for effective daily management: 

  1. A supportive organization structure to support development of your frontline people so they have ownership and accountability for the performance of their area of responsibility. 
  2. Effective frontline leaders to ensure everyone else in the leadership structure are not working down a level. 
  3. Appropriate measures with expected targets that are linked to the site’s key success factors for operations to ensure goal alignment and are relevant for the focused areas. 
  4. Structured daily review meetings to identify opportunities (problems/incidents) and monitor progress of their solution so they don’t happen again. 
  5. Visual information centers that visually display daily and trending performance along with monitoring of actions to address problems/issues raised.
  6. Frontline problem-solving root cause analysis capability across the site. 
  7. Rapid sharing of learning capability across shifts, departments and the organization. 
What do think of Ross's overview of reactive improvement? Do you practice this technique in your company?


Lean in the Public Sector -- What are the Distinct Challenges?

This past November, Kate McGovern published a new book entitled A Public-Sector Journey to Lean: Fighting Muda in Times of Muri, which documents the author's Lean journey based on her experiences at the New Hampshire Bureau of Education and Training

During a recent conversation with Kate, I asked her, “What are the different challenges public/government institutions face when beginning a Lean initiative compared to organizations in the private sector?” Here is her complete response:

Lean initiatives in the public sector face greater obstacles than their private sector counterparts in three areas: erratic and unreliable commitment of resources, risk-averse leadership, and the responsibility to serve dual customers. 

Let’s consider each component:

Resources: Elected officials who set public budgets must be persuaded to prioritize efficiency initiatives. Funding is often erratic and inadequate, lacking the staff resources necessary to train, facilitate, and coordinate improvement efforts.   

Risk-averse leadership: Aligning authority and responsibility at the gemba (like Toyota’s Andon cord) is counter-intuitive and frightening for traditional administrators. The multiple layers of checking give them a sense of security, making them reluctant to Lean processes. What if something goes wrong? What if it gets in the press?

Dual customers: The end-user customer is an individual applying for a building permit or a driver’s license, borrowing a library book, or reporting an emergency. The public is also customer, relying on the regulatory system for health and safety. For example, the public values the enforcement of building codes. Permit applicants value a fair, efficient process with courteous, professional staff to assist them. Consider a Lean event to design a process so that every qualified applicant receives a permit within two weeks. The team would identify why customers fail to meet the meet the qualifications, and develop countermeasures such as fact sheets, checklists and staff assistance. To ensure a quality outcome, the team would consider the purpose of each requirement and recommend modifications, if appropriate. Then, they would design the most efficient way to confirm compliance and validate eligibility. 

Are any readers currently part of a Lean initiative within a public-sector organization? Do you agree with Kate's overview of the specific obstacles faced when undertaking the improvement journey?


What are the Key Ingredients for a Lean Culture?

Paul McCartney, while in the Beatles, famously claimed that “money can’t buy me love" --  According to author Richard D. Brimeyer, money also can’t buy Lean. Rick’s book Working Great! Lean Leadership Lessons for Guiding Your Organization to Excellence contains 52 lessons for leader-managers, each with challenges for applying the lesson. The format is particularly conducive to a leader’s book club.

I chatted with Rick recently to discuss his assertion that sustained Lean success is driven by a handful of critical behaviors by managers at every level of the organization. Here are some of his comments:

Unlike so many management fads (reengineering, quality circles, etc.) that have come and gone over the decades, Lean owes its endurance to the fact that it benefits all stakeholders -- customers, owners/funders, and employees. Waste doesn’t help anyone. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of organizations embark on a Lean expedition underestimating the behavior changes required of managers at every level.

Although important, the ultimate measure of success for any Lean expedition is not how many kaizen events are completed, but rather how many improvements occur outside of formal events. The latter ultimately comes down to creating a place where employees care, where they are willing to expend discretionary effort, and feel competent solving problems and removing waste. Creating that place is almost totally reliant on the behaviors they observe from their leaders day in, day out to ensure:
  • Everyone understands the relevance of their work. 
  • Employees feel appreciated for who they are as well as what they do. 
  • Pathways for growth are evident. 
  • Successes (and efforts) are regularly recognized. 
  • A fair and responsive system exists for dealing with performance issues when they occur. 
Regardless of what we say, employees believe what we do. So being clear on key behaviors for leader-managers is very important. Ironically, these behaviors are consistent with any excellent supervisor, regardless of whether they are working in a Lean environment where flow and pull are practiced or not. Thus, the word “Lean” in my subtitle is practically superfluous, but these key behaviors are absolutely essential for establishing a Lean culture.

My goal for the book Working Great! is to provide a simple and useful resource for leader-managers, regardless of their level or experience. I hope to take the mystery out of culture by tying it to the behaviors to which they can hold themselves, and each other, accountable.

What do you think of Richard's points? Does the behavior of leadership at your organization reflect the true goal of the Lean initiative?