Lean has its roots in Manufacturing, so it follows that many consulting firms also have their roots in consulting for Manufacturing.
Most of these consulting firms have embraced lean in office and white-collar areas – I have no beef with that at all.
However, when talking about Lean in an office environment, some of the tools and techniques change in terms of their
application and benefit. But some consulting firms apply the tools and techniques the same way they would in a manufacturing environment – and that is a problem.
I’ll give you an example – the 5S principles.
5S is simply 5 Japanese (or English) words beginning with ‘S’ that are guiding principles for creating order and control in the organisation of your workspace and reducing waste like excessive motion.
|Original Japanese||English version||High-Level Description|
|Seiri||Sort||Sort out all your equipment so you only have what you need|
|Seiton||Set in order||Arrange everything so you can get something quickly and easily|
|Seiso||Shine||Keep your workstation clean and safe|
|Seiketsu||Standardise||Standardise workstations so people are familiar with the layout|
|Sitsuke||Sustain||Audit workstations and keep it the way it should be|
These principles, when applied correctly are transformative in a manufacturing environment (or similar).
Poorly set up and maintained manufacturing environments can be potentially life-threatening. Time spent looking for a particular tool can cause huge delays to the production line etc. It’s a big deal – and therefore, it’s one of the first things that often gets done when ‘lean’ comes to a plant.
But now we’re in an office and in walks your ‘lean consultant’ with heavy manufacturing experience but no understanding of how it differs in an office.
“Let’s 5S this workplace”.
And they set about red-tagging stuff not needed, cleaning away things, tidying desks, sorting out your paperclips and staplers, making every shiny.
And that’s nice – but it’s not transformational.
Of course, clean and tidy desks are beneficial, but the impact isn’t anything like it is on the manufacturing floor. An office worker with an untidy desk can still be highly productive (I can certainly relate to this!) but a manufacturing worker will not be productive with an untidy, cluttered and chaotic workstation.
So should we just bin the whole 5S technique in an office..?
The key thing here is to think about what it is that you make. What is the medium you work with?
In a manufacturing environment, this is perhaps metal, or wood or plastics etc. You’ll need machinery and tools to do your job.
In an office, the medium you work with is information or data. In this day and age, it’s still some paper, but mostly it’s little 1s and 0s – electronic data.
And that’s where 5S comes into its own in an office.
“Let’s 5S our data”.
How much time have you lost searching for a file? Or looking for the right template? Or finding that report from last month? Or looking up that policy? Or searching for your complaints procedure?
Even if it’s only minutes lost each day – multiply that by everyone who works for your company.
Trawling through your email folders or your file share system or just windows explorer to find the tools (information) you need to do your job.
It can be a huge waste of time – fixing this problem can be transformational.
So you see, 5S in an office is really a virtual activity. It’s mostly online, sorting, straightening, shining, standardising and sustaining your stored data it the point.
There are other Lean tools and techniques that change their application in an office environment too such as SMED and 8 wastes – but perhaps that’s another blog post/rant.
If you’re thinking of hiring consultants to help with your Lean transformation – make sure they are using the right tools for the job.