While lean started in manufacturing, the principles have widespread applicability even outside of the production facility. Many industries — including such non-manufacturing oriented fields as health care and finance – can adopt lean techniques to improve their cost structure, reduce errors and improve quality.

The key concept underlying lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste. To that end, a lean enterprise evaluates every internal step and workstream to determine if they provide value to the customer. If the step or process provides no value to the customer, the lean practitioner strives to find a way to eliminate or minimize the step.

The lean method uses several tools that help to identify non-valued-added steps and all types of waste, as follows:

  • Seven wastes: The seven wastes are transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing and defects. Many people remember this list using the mnemonic “Tim Wood.”
  • Five S: The five Ss include methods for organizing a workspace for maximum efficiency, and include sort, straighten, system, standardize and sustain.
  • Five ‘whys’: Asking “why” at least five times helps to identify the root cause of problems or waste so that it can be effectively addressed
  • Continuous improvement (kaizen): Detailed examination of all aspects of a process to identify areas for improvement
  • Fool proofing (Poka-yoke): Constructing a process in a way that prevents careless errors, often by using design techniques or tools or jigs that prevent incorrect machining or assembly to eliminate defects.

A transition to lean practices is a significant undertaking. Fortunately, there are multiple techniques, methodologies, and guidance available to any organization considering the task. Regardless of which path and tools are employed, organizations must consider the IT requirements and whether their organization’s existing IT infrastructure and applications either support or hinder lean initiatives.

Ultimately, lean imperatives are about taking action, and IT is a critical component of empowering the organization to implement an integrated solution.

Lean Enterprise

Are you looking for ways to improve the profitability of your company? If so, lean principles may be just what you need. Lean combines processes, methodologies, measurements, and training to increase profits and minimize process breakage.

However, becoming a lean organization is not a single step or even a finite undertaking such as a typical project. Lean is a process in and of itself. The assumption is that no process will ever reach an ideal state, so it must always undergo improvement, and this principle holds true for organizations as well as all the manufacturing and business processes within it.

Here are some ways that lean can improve front office procedures.

Analyze Office Processes

Just as you send a Kaizen team to analyze a particular production process, you may want to send a similar team to analyze key office procedures. Over time, many non-value added steps creep into office procedures, either to compensate for a one-time error or to simplify the day-to-day work for a single individual. These additional steps may no longer be needed and may cause you to waste precious time and resources that could be better spent on more productive pursuits.

Spreadsheets

There is no doubt that spreadsheets are valuable tools, but often, users adopt spreadsheets or manual lists to track status or priorities because they don’t know where to find the information they need in your ERP system. As a result, they manually compile data from multiple sources and enter it into a spreadsheet, which now becomes the “source of truth.” When you find a spreadsheet that has become an integral part of any continuing process other than financial reporting, analyze the reason for its creation.

Paper

Whenever you find a printout or a form in a process, analyze the process to ensure the paper is still necessary. Often you may find that paper forms are a holdover from times past and that the paper can be replaced with electronic copies or eliminated completely. Eliminating paper not only saves money on supplies, but it eliminates waste and frees up resources to work on more productive activities than filing and collating.

If you do find that a process requires a step involving paper, design the process in a way that minimizes the number of times the paper must be handled or filed so that the process is maximally efficient.

Workflow

Automated workflow is a feature that can help reduce wait time in many office processes. Whenever there is an approval or review step that can’t be eliminated, try to address it with an automated workflow that routes the information automatically and prevents the need for frequent follow-up.

These are just a few starting points for using lean techniques in your front office procedures. Start with customer-facing processes, spreadsheet dependent or heavily paper-bound processes and you will find that lean has the same efficiency enhancing effect on office processes as it does in manufacturing.