In recent times, many organisations have either implemented lean or have considered using lean as a way of bolstering flagging productivity. As a training organisation we get invited to the sites of many companies across a diverse set of market sectors. In our experience it’s not unusual for companies (initially at least) to see that lean only applies to their operational areas i.e. factory, warehouse, distribution etc but they don’t see that it applies in their office areas or support functions.
In an office we are not dealing with ‘products’ as such but more ‘packets of information’. If you start to see these packets of information as products and the process steps they go through to get from point A to Point B as equivalent to manufacturing processes then in many ways office based processes are no different to manufacturing ones. However there are some differences, in a factory we can physically see the flow of work and any bottlenecks that arise but in an office we can’t see problems as easily as much of the flow is in the ‘virtual’ world between computers via email and other electronic platforms. Therefore, we need to find a way of making this flow more visible, faster, right first time and in line with customer expectations.
To example this consider a manufacturing company developing a new product. When designing a new product several departments might be involved. For instance a design engineer might do the initial design work, a buyer might have to source new vendors and components and a process engineer might have to design the processes to manufacture the product. In other words, at least three different functions might be involved before it has even got into the production prototype phase. In many organisations the people involved will most likely not sit together, but instead sit in ‘silo’ type clusters around their respective managers. They may not even be on the same floor or in the same office. And so when information needs to flow between these people it will do so by telephone, email and meetings. This may cause delays, potential mis-understandings and in the case of meetings, may lead to further meetings because one or other of the parties were not fully prepared.
Therefore, consider a scenario where the same people are sitting together in the office irrespective of which department or manager they report into enabling them to verbally communicate, discuss issues as they arise enabling them to reach consensus and decisions more quickly and efficiently.
We call this creating a ‘value stream’ seating plan and we cover this topic in our Lean Office training course. If we sit people together who interact very closely on a day to day basis the improved communication alone has a very positive affect on productivity.