Lean

How To Create A Lean Office

by Joe Aherne

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When thinking about Lean’s application in various organizations, many people might think about optimizing core operations in sectors like manufacturing, healthcare, government, and other service industries. But, aside from profit-building activities, many people may not realize that Lean can be applied at the administrative level—and this, as a result, can help the overall goal of more efficiency and productivity, propelling an organization forward in its growth and success.

Creating a Lean office is a strategic approach that optimizes administrative resources to minimize waste and fosters a culture of continuous improvement and respect for all people. In order to stay competitive in today’s business landscape, it’s important to pursue these principles for administrative operations, which include routine tasks, communication, and information sharing. This article will explore how to create a Lean office and provide use cases to provide contextual examples of application.

What is a Lean Office?

All companies need a method for managing administrative tasks to achieve long-term success. For many, this comes in the form of an in-house administration department. A Lean office applies the principles of Lean to the administrative settings of an organization.

The focus is to evaluate processes to optimize task flow and eliminate waste. Examples of waste that arise in administrative departments include:

  • Ineffective routines and procedures
  • Idle time while waiting for information 
  • Unnecessary reports or meetings
  • Inaccurate information or data entry
  • Errors in reporting
  • Lack of standardization 
  • Manual tasks that could be automated

While not always associated with the bread and butter of a company’s success, admin departments are unsung heroes working behind the scenes to ensure smooth and seamless flow each day. Therefore, applying Lean principles to this context is vital to enhance how an organization runs. It’s not just about short-term optimization; it’s about systematically refining processes and fostering a mindset of perpetual growth and reflection. 

Employees practicing principles of Lean by sorting information visually.

Principles of a Lean Office

To successfully implement a Lean office, businesses must embrace the core concepts and practices of Lean methodology. These include:

Lean Leadership

Like with any application of Lean, implementation requires that top-level management introduces, actively supports, and champions the principles of Lean. These leaders should:

  • Set a clear vision for the direction of the department
  • Provide resources to guide everyone involved
  • Actively participate in the implementation at the administrative level
  • Prioritize admin duties equally with other operations in the organization

Lean office leaders should engage in training (for themselves and their employees), lead by example, and empower administrative teams to provide input and contribute to this transition.

Establish Metrics and Goals

Goals must be established to understand where an organization wants to go in their administrative duties, and to guide the process. Establish clear, quantifiable objectives aligned with your organization’s visions. These goals can include desires to:

  • Decrease time spent on daily tasks
  • Eliminate unnecessary steps in information sharing
  • Standardize and automate processes
  • Improve meeting efficiency

As with any goal, metrics can help measure progress and success in a Lean office. Establish relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) to track growth, identify areas for improvement, and ensure overall organizational alignment.

Standardized Processes

Often, waste comes when processes haven’t undergone rigorous trial and error testing, leading to the employment of different practices among individuals on the same team. Standardizing processes ensures consistency, reduces variation, and facilitates easier waste identification.

To make these changes, identify the areas needing improvement and standardization. Document current practices and optimize the most efficient methods of performing administrative tasks. Productive methods can also include workflow automation to help free up time and energy for other critical duties. 

This shift empowers administrative departments to understand best practices and encourages a collective effort to streamline work methods. Documentation of standard procedures will also benefit new employees looking for the most efficient ways to do their jobs.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement (Kaizen) encourages the relentless pursuit of better processes, productivity, and quality. It involves fostering a culture where all employees at all levels have the space to suggest improvements and implement them over time.

In office settings, continuous growth means shifting to a mindset of challenging the status quo and finding new ways to make processes more efficient, whether it’s day-to-day admin work, communication with other departments, meeting execution, or information sharing.

Respect for All People

A Lean office acknowledges and respects the expertise, experience, and diversity of all individuals within an organization. Often, admin teams are a vital touchpoint with other departments. Given this level of collaboration, fostering an inclusive environment where everyone involved feels comfortable contributing to ideas is essential.

A Lean office must encourage continuous engagement and feedback from everyone affected by the process. Creating a culture of respect can foster a smoother flow of information among administration and other departments, contributing to significant improvements that ripple throughout the organization.

Communication and Teamwork

Teamwork is a core value in Lean. In order to move the needle forward in a Lean office, leaders and team members must engage in open dialogue, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. Placing this value at the forefront of the implementation process ensures that no one gets left behind as teams experience an entire mindset shift. Embracing the principles of communication and teamwork also fosters happier, more empowered administrative departments.

A government office. A potential place for Lean office implementation.

Use Case #1: Municipal Offices

Bureaucratic processes and diverse service offerings often burden government offices. Therefore, they can benefit from Lean methodologies. To implement a Lean office, municipalities or other government agencies can:

  • Standardize their processes by mapping out their current workflows, eliminating redundant steps, and creating procedures for all administrative departments to follow or adapt to their needs.
  • Measure metrics to help the agency during routine reviews. These metrics can include time spent on admin tasks, wait periods, and error reports. Understanding and reviewing these KPIs can help governments make adjustments to streamline processes further. This will improve internal practices and enhance overall service quality. 
  • Foster teamwork and encourage better communication through stand-up meetings, iterative feedback sessions, and training on how to best communicate in ways that show respect for everyone involved. Establishing these practices can help municipal offices address internal and citizen needs more effectively. 

Use Case #2: Medical Offices

Generally, goals in the healthcare sector include improving patient care, operational efficiency, and staff satisfaction. When it comes to improving patient experiences, medical offices must reflect on their current internal processes and workflows to minimize errors, which consequently optimizes care and improves staff satisfaction. Implementing Lean in this administrative setting can look like:

  • Using KPIs to measure how changes in admin impact patient outcomes, wait times, and overall operational efficiency and quality. Some changes that can be measured include the overall effectiveness of automated tasks, new clinic-to-patient communication methods, or even new technology, like a patient profile management system.
  • Improving communication and teamwork among internal members.  When managing the flow of patients, information must often be transmitted to different departments and clinicians, depending on the need for testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Having a standardized process for information sharing can reduce errors in data, make data transmission quicker, and, ultimately, ensure patients get the timely care they need. When information flows seamlessly, this also increases satisfaction among administrative teams as they can focus less on correcting mistakes and more on the people they serve.
  • Cultivating respect for all people. This principle is especially vital in medical offices, where people enter these settings with vulnerability. Fostering a culture of respect at an internal level can consequently lead to higher levels of respect for patients. Satisfaction increases when admin staff feels empowered to contribute ideas and make changes. When employees feel satisfied, it improves their capacity to serve patients with dignity and respect.

Use Case #3: Corporate Offices

Lean allows admin personnel in corporate offices to optimize their workflows, consequently improving the flow of information at all levels of the organization. Areas needing improvement in this setting include HR-related matters, accounting, invoicing, meetings, and internal and external communications.

Adopting Lean principles in these areas delivers more value to employees, customers, and other relevant stakeholders. If internal admin processes operate at peak efficiency, employees may have more time to add value to customer and partner relationships. Some ways corporate offices can implement Lean include:

  • Establishing key objectives and measuring results. Mapping out current processes can help businesses understand their current admin workflow and identify areas for improvement. From here, key objectives can be set with measurable benchmark goals. For example, if a business wants to reduce the number of unpaid invoices, steps for success could include changing client expectations, adjusting communication, or tweaking methods and timelines for collecting payments.
  • Encouraging open dialogue. Optimizing processes in a corporate setting involves giving all stakeholders a chance to voice concerns and contribute new ideas. In order to maximize profit and client satisfaction, it’s crucial to collaborate and explore areas for optimization so that core operations can run at peak levels.
  • Ensuring leaders are involved in the process. In some corporate settings, admin-related tasks take less priority than other operational duties, like product creation, sales, and client retention. Ensuring CEOs and management recognize the importance of admin in a business’s ongoing success helps establish a foundation for implementing Lean. These leaders should be involved in the incremental changes and provide the resources for employees to do their jobs more effectively.

How To Get Started Creating A Lean Office

To begin transforming your office with Lean, organizations must start with a solid foundation of principles. Understanding the fundamentals can help administrative departments and other employees shift their mindsets to embrace continuous improvement. There are various ways to begin these transformations, including:

  • Providing resources and Lean training for employees and all relevant departments affected by these administrative changes.
  • Establishing strong Lean leadership to demonstrate commitment to these departmental changes.
  • Continuously reflecting on dedication to the Lean transformation—have you implemented Lean practices just for the sake of making changes, or are you committed to its ongoing application? Fake Lean can be deceiving and counterproductive to the intentionality and long-term sustainability that real Lean strives for. 

Creating a Lean office is not just a one-time initiative; it’s a perpetual process that becomes ingrained in the fabric of a business or organization. By committing to continual improvement, even in the smallest day-to-day tasks, admin teams can feel more satisfied with their work, which will positively impact the rest of the organization.

Leading Edge Group provides comprehensive resources and training to help your organization adopt a Lean office. From certifications to individual courses, we’re here to help you optimize your administrative duties and make life easier for your teams and the people they serve. Reach out to us today to get started.

Joe Aherne Photo
Joe Aherne

CEO of Leading Edge Group

Joe qualified as a Certified Public Accountant in 1982. It was a decision that reaped great benefits for Joe, providing him with an international recognized qualification which allowed him to follow in his father and grandfathers’ footsteps who had both worked and lived abroad. Having qualified as a CPA, Joe took up financial positions in the Middle East and UK.

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