Seven ways to kick start improvement activities in the office
1. Connecting with people: When Lean starts it is normally in the factory and it is driven by frontline improvement events, which require operators and supervisors to be involved because the process of making things is what they do. Management does not try to interfere because it’s not their area of expertise and they do not take a part in the activities.
In the office things are different. The processes cut a diagonal slice through the organisation, involving different departments or functions as well as management levels. Everyone has a view on how the process operates but only those at the coalface really know. Any improvement activity needs to connect with the people at the coalface; although management is involved they are invariably the cause of many issues and wastes in the office.
2. Understand what a process is: In the office it’s hard to see what’s being produced. There is often nothing more than an approval, a signature, an email or a figure at the end of the process. People think that their daily tasks are the process when in fact they are performing a task within the process. Getting the team together to discuss their work and then defining their processes starts to create the framework for improvement. It begins to relate the work to the customer and create the understanding that there are a lot of interdependencies to achieve the end goal.
3. Drive business objectives: Within any medium to large sized organisation there will be a myriad of processes. To accompany this there will be a set of business objectives. Improvement activities often stall in the office by focusing on things that have little consequence on the neither process nor business objectives. Activities are started that copy the workshops in the factory but these have little effect on business processes; for example using the tool 5S – which is great in the factory where you have materials and tools but not so relevant in the office where many things are now electronic. Improvement needs to be able make a step change in the performance of the process as well as having a direct bearing on the most important business objectives.
4. Focus on what you can influence: In today’s world of global businesses the work that is seen in the office often belongs elsewhere in the organisation, for example getting a quote together for a global supply solution. This work may cause the most frustration and take up time but its important to focus on what you can influence. Engagement will only occur when people can see the direct impact of their actions. The more wider complex processes need regional and site teams to be mobilized to improve.
5. Try different ways to see the waste: Lean classically tells you to go out and:
Map the process:-
To find the waste
To remove it
To make it flow.
In the office the work is not necessarily seen as a process and the frustrations need to be articulated in a way to engage staff. Looking at the work from the eyes of staff rather than the process uncovers the frustrations and wastes from a different viewpoint – at the same time engaging staff through resolution of their issues.
6. Understand the customer and what they value: In the office the customer of the process is often obscure. The customer needs to be discovered to find out what’s important to them. These factors of importance or value attributes can then be translated into the process.
7. Design the organisation to fit the process: The first consideration of any re-organisation or creation of a new business is typically to think about the people first. The purpose of why we are here and the process that needs to be followed are often secondary in the thought process. Its not that the whole organisation needs to be fully determined by the process but more that the right balance is struck between the process and functional needs to cater for the customer and expertise required to deliver value to the customer.
The Perfect Process Company