Lean office practices for repetitive work should be the easiest to implement and actually view. For some reason they are rarely implemented in an effective way in office environments. Please reference my previous post on work types to get some context on our first focus area here. Just to summarize, repetitive work in an office environment is typically transaction processing of some type, whether it is reconciling trades or processing purchase orders.
Since this area features some obvious practices, let try and focus more on a few that are commonly missed.
- Defining Outputs Appropriately – This may seem really obvious, but it is worth repeating. I still see many back office teams who define their output as processing something. That’s it. No measure which reflects quality (like rework) or of customer satisfaction problems (# of calls to work problems). The output must be defined completely and simply to support solid work design and execution. If this is not done well, the rest is doomed to fail.
- Designing the Work (“line balancing) – When designing production lines in a factory, you separate the “runners” from the “strangers”. A flex line is often used to efficiently handle strangers while the runners chug away on the main line. The concept is simple. You want your most talented staff working on the hard ones while the less experienced and less capable staff work on easier ones. Over time, a concerted effort is made to train staff to take on harder tasks. This is very easy to implement in an office but rarely is. If you are assigning work by the first letter of the client’s name, you have a problem here.
- Implementing the Andon concept – Most days, your staff might have little problem efficiently dispatching their work. When they hit a roadblock what do they do? They might stop working on the item and put it in a queue somewhere or they might just spin their wheels trying to address it on their own. Both of these are bad options. In an office, it is really critical that staff know when and how to raise issues. You certainly do not want someone constantly raising their hand. A simple process committed to a laminated card is a good starting point. It is also best to not rely on email as the “Andon” light. Email is terribly for this purpose. I have even seen people use small desk flags and other devices to let a supervisor know that they need help. These practices must be appropriate for the details of the work and office environment. This is a great place for creativity and experimentation. People might even have fun!
- Conducting daily stand-up meetings – Factories often have very brief stand-up meetings to discuss goals and other items at the beginning of each shift. Offices often have irregular start times which make implementing a daily stand-up difficult. I do believe that they should be considered though. Having a quick 5-10 minute meeting to focus teams on daily goals and highlight areas where help is required can be a huge productivity improver. Think hard about ways you could implement this. I will write more later about how to run a daily stand-up.
I did not include some of the basics here like daily performance indicators, written descriptions of work processes, information about improvement activities and results, staff training plans, etc.