There is a dynamic that naturally occurs through the implementation of Workplace Organization that can’t be overstated. That dynamic is the excitement and sense of ownership that takes place for every participant. Workplace Organization (WPO) is the single most important lean tool for capturing lost available time because it involves everyone in an organization regardless of their position or function. It also sets the stage for connecting internal customers and suppliers in a way that encourages or enhances smooth, continuous flow of information or materials.

I have referenced the need for active participation in WPO across the entire enterprise in many previous articles. Hopefully they are part of your lean library for ready reference. A reader requested that I spend some time on lean in the office. Maybe this article can set the stage for responding to that request.

Location, location

Everyone interacts with things around them whether that be files or folders on a computer, receiving and storing materials, setting up a piece of equipment, performing maintenance on a machine, or assembling components for a customer order. The locations of all of the things needed to perform a task and how readily accessible they are greatly impacts a person’s ability to complete tasks in a productive manner.

That doesn’t just mean the physical location of tools or parts. It can also mean where things are located in computer files or how papers are arrayed for easy access. For example, if a folder is stored on the desktop of a computer it is easier to retrieve than if it is buried in a maze of folders and sub-folders. Likewise, if several documents are packaged together in random order, searching for the one or two that pertain to a specific process step can be time consuming and frustrating.

Everybody on board

Every person in your organization needs to actively participate in implementing Workplace Organization or there will be no chance of sustainability. It is also imperative that your company establish a new-employee orientation program that includes the basics of lean and Workplace Organization. Success can only be achieved when everyone understands the objective and is committed to achieving it.

Workplace Organization was the first Lean tool deployed at both Signature Wood Systems and Hunter Trim & Cabinet. They didn’t stop there though. Both companies have also started implementing Standard Work as an outgrowth of the 4th S - Standardize. That leads to another factor that must to be remembered when implementing lean. Workplace Organization is not the alpha and omega of a lean journey. All too often leaders don’t take advantage of the energy and enthusiasm generated as a result of improvements through WPO and fail to maximize their resources.

I had the opportunity to visit a wood products manufacturer in Vermont. The owners had embarked on the lean journey some time before my visit, but they weren’t satisfied with the results. As you can see by the picture, employees had a good understanding of organizing their individual work areas. Every work area was as well ordered and arrayed as the one shown. But having organized individual work spaces only ensured that the plant looks good for visitors and that things were easier to find. Velocity of throughput has yet to be maximized because Workplace Organization wasn’t applied to the entire enterprise with a focus on connecting internal customers and suppliers. That is the dynamic that needs further exploration.

Productivity gains

Dustin Hunter, the CEO of Hunter Trim and Cabinets (HTC), in Ft Worth, TX, sent me an email recently updating the progress of their Lean journey. He said sales are up 85 percent and productivity has increased 40 percent. I’m not sure how much of an impact WPO had on increasing sales, but I do know that it had a direct effect on increased productivity.

Dustin and staff not only applied 5S thinking to individual work areas, they also applied it to all of the internal customer supplier relationships from the way cutlists are arrayed, and the information that is contained in them, to where each process step was located in relation to its internal customer. Work-in-process was reduced or eliminated, which created space for equipment consolidation, thus reducing the wastes of transportation and movement. I have included a before and after picture of the assembly area at HTC so you can see the magnitude of the Workplace Organization improvement. In this case, tools that were previously located quite a distance from the assembly area could be located close to the point of use once the clutter and chaos was removed.

Brad and company at Signature Wood Systems continued applying 5S thinking beyond the individual work spaces as well and achieved tremendous results. Once their work spaces were stabilized and waste was driven out, they too continued to Sort, Set-in-Order, Shine, and Standardize the enterprise so processes could be connected to create flow. Their perseverance and persistence in maximizing resources is the primary reason for increasing throughput velocity four-fold.

Business philosophy

There is a reason why I prefer to refer to lean as a “Business Philosophy” rather than the traditional phrase “Lean Manufacturing.” Lean manufacturing connotes that all of the ills of a business are the fault of manufacturing. Of course we know that to be false because enterprises that have no association with manufacturing are effectively employing lean. For instance, hospitals don’t manufacture anything, but many of them are making breakthrough improvements with a lean strategy. All of the tools and techniques of lean are just as relevant in an office environment as they are anywhere else in a business and the process begins in the same way, with the application of Workplace Organization. 

If you are in an administrative capacity and you find it difficult to get your arms around that comment, try tracking the number of times you leave your work area to get needed information or supplies. How far do you go? How often do you not find what you are looking for right away? Where are the things you interact with? Where are your primary customers in relation to your work area? Minimizing the interferences caused by the results those questions will greatly improve your productivity and will likely improve your internal customer/supplier relationships as well.

I will continue to explore lean in the office in the next article and will also provide an update on the progress of the lean transformation at Joe’s company in Florida.

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