Office Kaizen, Part 1/4 (People Wastes)

Process excellence professionals are often, and rightfully so, concerned about eliminating waste at their manufacturing facilities (tangible processes). Whilst this is indeed considered an easier-to-measure approach, other enabling functions of the organization such as the procurement, HR, and accounting departments, to name a few, also carry an incredible amount of waste in their daily activities. It is important to mention that the core functions of a business (sometimes referred to as industrial or productive) are without a doubt the most likely areas that need efficiency and effectiveness working at their peaks. But let us not be naive enough to completely ignore the fact that enabling (or back office) processes are just as important. This series of four posts based on the popular book Office Kaizen, Transforming Office Operations Into A Strategic Competitive Advantage (Lareau, 2003) addresses some of the most common wastes that any organizational setting may find in their enabling processes.

Part I, People Wastes

Goal Alignment Waste: this is about the typical “let’s do it ourselves” mentality. When new rules are set in place, departments try to work them out (or figure them out) as individual silos. Procedures are set for different areas of the organization but a meaningful alignment of objectives is neglected. In fact, goal alignment waste can be amplified if the processes involved in such change (of a rule, a goal, a procedure etc.) are not working as a value stream. In a typical Office Kaizen approach, “the executive steering committee (ESC) charters a cross-functional change team to work out a solution that is cost-effective across the entire value stream over the long term.” (Lareau, 2003, p. 22).

Assignment Waste: grab your pen and paper, fire up your PowerPoint – it is time to produce irrelevant and unnecessary reports! In this type of waste, someone “believes” that a 45-page long report on process improvement is a must to convince the boss of something, in case the boss wants to see it. The outcomes are twofold: 1) no one will ever read the report, or 2) someone will read the report and the likelihood of a bad decision made on fluff becomes very high. Lareau (2003) suggests that a Lean Daily Management System (LDMS) be implemented in each work group, and that ESC-chartered teams produces brief reports on small improvements that are taking place in the organization.

Waiting Waste: the waste of resources lost due to the waiting of information, meetings, phone calls, signatures, tech support, and so on. Called by Lareau as “accepted waste”. In a Office Kaizen environment, work groups (sometimes called cells) will 1) monitor how efficient their processes really are and what type of wastes are being experienced and 2) conduct value stream mapping to tackle the most identified wastes the group may be facing. At a later stage, the teams can also expand their analysis into cross-functional wastes (wastes carried from and to other functions of the organization).

Motion Waste: in its most simplistic form, imagine a sales rep having to walk to the very end of the hall to access a fax machine. Or the warehouse manager who needs to spend hours and walk miles around the warehouse to ask simple questions about shipping orders. Non-value added time spent in any process is a waste. Let’s remind ourselves that waste in Lean (and Office Kaizen) means activities that the customer will not pay for. The approach to tackle this form of waste in a Office Kaizen environment is as follows: 1) through the use of a spaghetti diagram the team identifies what represents non-value added motion within the organization, and 2) Kaizen Blitzes can quickly and effectively identify metrics that represent how much of walking around means waste.

Processing Waste: “work smarter not harder” – a typical headline in various process improvement initiatives. Processing waste is simply that. It represents any task that could be done in a more effective and smarter way. Lack of training is a huge contributor to this form of waste. A sales person might spend twice the time to prepare a proposal if the information and the knowledge required to do so has not been passed onto him/her. The approach through a Office Kaizen mentality would be to use the employee’s skills backed-up by procedures to accomplish the task in its most efficient way.

The next post will address Process Wastes. At EZSigma Group, we take pride in helping customers of all sizes and industries to perform better, increase employee morale, and run their organizations smoother through the application of proven methods and tools of quality management. Contact us for more information.