One of the coolest things of this Lean journey is the ability to better discern waste in everyday processes. Everyone wants to eliminate waste in manufacturing. It’s the easiest place to do it. That’s where everything is visible and tangible. We’ve got guys working like crazy to get 30 seconds out of a test operation to increase the throughput of units on the floor, but you know what? Everywhere you go, the manufacturing floor will be the most efficient running operation compared to every other operation and process in that entire company.
Once I started thinking about this concept, I started to realize that while waste may be visible on the production floor (a product not moving, a stopped line, WIP), it’s just as prevalent in the office environment if you know what to look for. If you follow a customer order for a product as it comes in the door to the time it leaves, just a fraction of that order’s life is actually spent on the production floor. Now, think about all the time that order, in some form or another, spends sitting somewhere, waiting.
“Waiting” is the key non-value added waste in an office environment. We see it in our every day lives – Waiting in line for the printer/fax, waiting for the drawings, waiting for approval, waiting for material. How many office operations do you see where someone waits for a stack of orders/tickets/emails/requests to pile up before attending to them? In essence, we have to build systems and lead-times around our waiting. What to do? What we are doing in our office environment is to assess all the processes with the people actually performing the work. Identify the waste in processes in every department – What is the time impact daily, weekly, or monthly? Continue to ask the question “Why?” Guaranteed, you will probably get to a phrase similar to “That’s how we’ve always done it” Typically, companies overload themselves so much with manual processes and waiting, that when business picks up, you have to hire new people just to continue to move all the extra waiting “waste” that piles up.
Look for the low hanging fruit. Like baseball, focus on the singles and walks and not on the home runs. We realized a quick savings when we looked at our shipping process and realized that a manually controlled shipping check requiring three departments input was slowing down shipping on a daily basis. When we dug deeper, we identified that three departments were accommodating what was already a capability in our corporate computer system. Once implemented, we freed up enough office time in three departments to equal about $25,000 in one year. This was merely one quick waste elimination of a process that we had been doing for at least 10 years, but it immediately wetted the appetite for more!
David Seifrid is manager of planning and customer Support at The Morey Corp.