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?