Unconvinced that Lean can be applied to administrative operations. Here are how some of our clients applied lean in the office to reduce lead time.
A client’s value stream map indicated that out of a total lead time of 22 weeks only 1 week was spent doing true value-added work. This steel fabricator found that a large part of the non-value-added lead time was identified as “waiting for approval”. Approvals were built into many stages of the order fulfillment process but were the responsibility of management staff that was often unavailable. The client standardized the work procedures to eliminate the need for many of the approvals and reduced their lead time by 2 weeks.
In reviewing the order entry process for a client, we found that a significant amount of time was used to acknowledge the order. Whenever an order was entered, an acknowledgement was automatically printed and then manually sorted and mailed to each customer. The first question we asked was: “Who really wants these acknowledgements—do they add value?” It turned out that only a few of their customers wanted an acknowledgement, and those that did said an e-mail response would be sufficient. The client changed their order processing system to code any customer seeking an acknowledgement, then automatically acknowledging these customers via e-mail at the end of the order entry process. This resulted in freeing up an overworked office staff to allow them to spend more time on value-added activities.
A loudspeaker manufacturer discovered that much of its lead time was attributed to delays in obtaining customer approvals during the design and prototype cycle. There was no effective means of managing the customer approval process. It seemed that once the information was given to the customer, it disappeared into a “Black Hole”. We suggested to the client that they develop a visual management system (a centrally located schedule board) that shows the status of every job in house. This provided visibility for every step of the process and reduced lead-time in the design and prototype process by 50 percent.
As you can see by these examples Lean solutions are surprisingly simple and do not require great expenditure of capital.
Lean is a proven, systematic approach for eliminating/minimizing waste that results in the production of goods or services at the lowest possible cost. It goes beyond the shop floor. Lean is every system, every process and every employee in the company.
Willie L. Carter is the president of Quantum Associates, Inc., a process improvement consultancy. He helps managers unlock the full promise, speed, and energy of their processes. Carter’s certifications include, Lean Sensei, ISO 9000 Lead Assessor, Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence. He is an experienced facilitator, coach, and author of the book “Process Improvement for Administrative Departments, The Key to Achieving Internal Customer Satisfaction.” His company helps executives optimize their business processes to minimize their costs, accelerate their cycle time while simultaneously enabling them to do more with less. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.