The Lean Office - Getting Started

How do you create a lean office? Here are some basic steps you can follow to get started. Usually the tendency is to look at administrative functions as departments like human resources, finance, purchasing, and engineering as if they contributed individually to the success of the organization without looking at the interaction between functions and departments. There is a failure to look at and evaluate the value stream design of the office.

 You need to step back and look at the big picture. First, visualize the process and processes involved and not the departmental structure of the office. When you look at the processes it is you can start pinpointing the problems. This will provide a sense of how to transform the work flow into more streamlined processes. Take a look at the paper and information flow and then determine how this triggers work throughout the office. You will begin to see the interaction and integration of the various work functions and activities.
 
Document the current state of how work gets done. Then evaluate the current state and create a vision for an improved new way of getting things done. Waste needs to be evaluated. Examples include producing paperwork before it’s needed, and if it is needed at all. Look at how things are processed and the material or information they utilize. Is there system downtime or waiting time for approvals? Evaluate and assess if additional and unnecessary copies or reports are being produced.
 
Another area to scrutinized is where errors are occurring such as billing corrections or engineering change notices. Look carefully for excess and unnecessary motion. Examples include walking to and from the copier, fax machine, or to other offices. Included here is the unnecessary movement of paper and multiple approvals. Finally, take a look at people’s abilities and not their time. Are they limited because of the lack of authority or the right tools?
 
Another stumbling block to lean progress is not having good measurements on what is taking place within administrative processes. Some typical measurements include:
·         Process time and lead time
·         Changeover time
·         Typical batch sizes
·         Demand rate
·         Percentage of completeness and accuracy
·         Process reliability
·         Numbers of people
·         Inventories of supplies needed
·         Evaluation of information technology being utilized
·         Time available
 All of these factors should be considered when mapping and documenting the administrative processes.
 
When you’re mapping and assessing processes the variety of measurement should be evaluated and documented. Consider the amount of time available and then how efficiently and effectively is it being utilized. In addition to just mapping the processes, it is essential to actually perform a system walk-through so you can get immersed into how the processes actually work. The mapping process can be as simple as jotting down the flow on a sheet of paper.
 
The process of mapping and assessing should include diagnostic questions and discussions with the personnel performing the work. Once the process owners see and understand what you are evaluating, they will likely come up with lots of suggestions for improving the work flow.
 
All these steps are things that many or most administrative functions fail to address. Things just continue to get done in the same old way. So step back and think about how to initiate streamlining your administrative office processes. I think you’ll be surprised at what can be accomplished.

This blog

Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM - Lynn's focus is on building business value for both family-owned businesses and other CPAs. I also specialize in lean accounting, process improvement, internal control, and assessment of audit risk. Other accomplishments include publishing two books, development of self study programs for Bisk Education, and an Adjunct Professorship at Villanova University. My wife Jessica and I live in southwestern Colorado and we look forward to contributing to the AccountingWEB community.

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