Skip to main content

LEAN is Not Just for Manufacturing: LEAN in the Office

So far, this month’s blog articles have shared Lean philosophies, history, benefits and tips for getting started. However, many readers may step back and say that these posts aren’t relevant for them – as Lean is really just for manufacturing. However, that is so NOT THE CASE! See how Lean tools and principles can help service based organizations, as well as administrative and office functions within all types of industries.

One of the reasons that Lean concepts get shoe-boxed into just manufacturing is that companies tend to focus on the lean “tools” and do not look at how work is performed and flows. Also, because administrative functions are often not physically observable and there is no final physical product, many think you can’t measure “defects” or “lead times” or other metrics associated with a manufacturing environment. Similarly, service organizations claim that they can’t implement Lean because their processes are long, contain many complex variables, multiple decision points and much of the work takes place out of sight and in peoples’ minds. However, it is actually because of these factors that Lean practices can really help these organizations

  • Since service processes are not physically observable, Lean tools like visual management can make work processes visible that were otherwise invisible. Value stream mapping the processes that service organizations go through to sell to and serve their customers will highlight the processes that provide no customer value and that should be improved or eliminated.

  • Standardizing service processes allow companies to provide consistent service excellence, allow for better training for new employees, and documentation of “tribal knowledge” that could otherwise be lost if a key employee leaves.

  • Another benefit of making the “invisible visible” is that a visual workplace is easier to manage. When work instructions and prioritization rules are visible, less time is wasted directing basic tasks. In addition, it is quicker and easier to identify problem areas and issues with performance, and easier to find ways to continuously improve – a cornerstone of Lean!

  • Lean techniques also develop creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which are in high demand in all work environments. Lean techniques like “answering the 5 whys” force employees to think through problems more thoroughly to get to the real root of the issue – and look beyond the obvious. Many Lean processes require working in teams, which feeds creativity through idea generation. In the article Will Lean Kill Creativity In Innovation they list a great quote: “The great innovation company Ideo puts it this way: ‘Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the lone genius’.”

So as you can see, the belief that Lean won’t work in a service or administrative environment is just a myth, and the fear that Lean techniques and principles will hinder creativity and innovation are not only unfounded but just the opposite! So consider implementing Lean concepts into the office environment in your organization. You will begin to see the possibilities for improvement in all that you do.

By Ann Condon, Marketing Manager

Ann Condon has been with Dion for 17 years, working in Dion’s Marketing and Business Development Department. Although this was her first position with a jewelry manufacturer, she has learned a lot over the years. Ann enjoys getting involved in “All Things Dion” from volunteering at the Dion Golf Tournament to being a part of the Dion Diamonds Relay for Life Team. She has quite a number of Dion event t-shirts to show for it!


Lean Principles In An Office Environment

Lean Office: How to make my office lean and productive?
Think Lean Six Sigma

How to Encourage Critical Thinking in the Workplace
Paul Crosby       The Uncommon League

Practicing Lean Fundamentals in an Office Environment
Drew Locher       Lean Enterprise Institute

How to Make an Office Lean
Dan Markovitz       Industry Week

Lean is Even More Important in Services than Manufacturing
Karyn Ross       Industry Week

Will Lean Kill Creativity In Innovation?
Henrik Sonnenberg & Claus Sehested     Implementation Consulting Group