Office life: business team during a meetingAll too often I hear about cases where the deployment of lean techniques has failed and lean is rejected by the people it was meant to help.

I’m particularly disappointed when these occur in work environments that process information or deal with people, like offices, health care, transport and other service providers.

So if you are new to lean, or a lean convert from a manufacturing background, and are keen to give it a go in your office, here are my top 4 pitfalls to avoid.

Blitzing people’s personal items instead of improving the information flow

Carrying out a 5S activity is done to eliminate waste and support the process in an improved state. It should not be done to “improve housekeeping” and make the place look tidy.

In the office environment the process centres on the flow of information (or people). So is diving in and removing personal photos and snacks from desks supporting an improved work flow? Or will it just antagonise people?

I have found that a 5S activity that supports improved flow and makes peoples work easier is more successful. Often the activity focus is in shared work areas, both physical and electronic.

Using lots and lots of yellow tape

Again, I’ve seen 5S deployed in an office where every waste paper bin and pot plant ended up surrounded by squares of yellow tape. Result – unimpressed manager!

Two points here:

  1. Yellow tape should only be used as a temporary measure until the right position for an essential item is agreed upon. Then a smarter, more subtle and permanent method for indicating the home location can be used.
  2. Is marking the position of the pot plant helping to support an improved work flow? Don’t go mad with the tape!

Failing to involve the people who work in the area

Using a team approach that includes people from the work area is standard best practice. They have the working knowledge and skills required to contribute to the best improvements.

More importantly doing lean to people, instead of involving them, causes alienation and rejection. If you don’t believe me try the Wallet Exercise!

Not using data to focus and show improvement

Teams need to fully understand how an area works before they make any physical changes. This helps them to select the right improvement tool and apply it where it counts – see points 1 and 2.

Information and people based processes are not exempt from this. In fact as the processes are often harder to see than manufacturing ones, it’s even more important to do this.

To start, collect and analyse key data, map the process and understand the targets or objectives for that function.

Later comparison to original data will show how the improvement is going. It is vital to demonstrate that the effort you put in does affect the bottom line.

There are of course more than these 4 things that can foil your activity. But my advice is to give it a go and learn by doing.

Always review what you have done and keep learning points for next time you apply the technique.

True understanding of lean comes with application.

I will write some follow up blogs giving examples of how lean techniques can be successfully applied to information based environments. If you want to share your examples and learning points then please send them in.