“Lean” is hot. A magical word in times of cost reductions. But what is “lean”? What is the relation to TPS (the Toyota Production System)? Where does Six Sigma fit in? And which method fits a secretarial supporting department?
This article doesn’t claim to be scientific, but is an extract of the three methods with my interpretations added. The goal is to show that secretarial departments can implement lean working, where Six Sigma may be too focussed on numbers and TPS should be fit throughout the company. A Dutch version will be published later.
A bit of theory
Originally developed by Motorola in the eighties, used to recognize, acknowledge and repair defect company processes. It works with a graduation system (“belts”, like in martial arts) to recognize the experience of the practitioners and to determine who manages which process. Analyzed data is an important source of information of Six Sigma; it is used as basis to reach (almost) perfection in the production process.
The basic Six Sigma principles are
- Customer Centric: the success of a product / service is how the customer values it.
- Structurize data and facts: set a baseline and measurements, define gauges to quickly identify oddities.
- Master processes and actions: be competitive in delivering value to your customer.
- Manage proactive: go for problem preventing actions instead of cures afterwards. Set goals, backed up by data and review on a regular basis.
- Work as a team: to succesfully implement Six Sigma, working as a team towards a joined goal is mandatory. This can save money and improve the customer value.
- Seek perfection: but leave some space for mistakes, as new initiatives, techniques etc. are sometimes necessary to achieve perfection. Risks can be low with proper risk management.
Working lean was developed after World War II to standardize industrialization (especially the car industry), but gained its fame in 1996. It is based on five principles.
- Identify the customer value of your product / service.
- Identify all steps to create this value. Eliminate unnecessary steps.
- Create continuity in all steps, so the product / service “flows” to your customer.
- When the flow is introduced / implemented, offer your product / service based on the pull system.
- Improve constantly from point 1. Have the workload divided evenly and therefore constantly, without making extra costs.
TPS is the abbriviation of the Toyota Production System. It is developed after World War II, based on theories of e.g. Henry Ford and W. Edwards Demings. It is a highly expanded form of lean working and it has 14 principles as described by Dr. Jeffrey Liker in his book The Toyota Way.
- Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.
- Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.
- Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction.
- Level out the workload. “Work like the turtle, not like the hare.” (Heijunka)
- Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.
- Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
- Use visual control so no problems are hidden.
- Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.
- Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.
- Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.
- Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.
- Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (Genchi Genbutsu).
- Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly (Nemawashi).
- Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (Hansei) and continuous improvement (Kaizen).
These methods are either confused or used combined (Lean Six Sigma). The major differences I can see are:
- Six Sigma is mainly “management by data”. Data has a major part in this method, while the risk of underestimating the human part is very present. The advantage of Six Sigma is that one can see where expenses can be cut, because of a clear baseline.
For example: printer paper costs can be cut by introducing a paperless office. According to Six Sigma, this is a reduction of costs, even when the company introduces BYO or CYO, because this is an investment. However, it doesn’t take people who don’t want a tablet pc or laptop in regard; they are forced to work paperless as well.
- Lean can be implemented throughout the company or within several departments. It is highly introverted and can be used for short term reduction of costs. When implemented properly, it can reduce costs and increase value on short term and long term. The basis is methods like Kaizen and 5S:
o Seiri (整理) : Sorting (what is / is not needed to work efficiently)
o Seiton (整頓) : Straightening (arrange tools, instructions etc. in such a way that the most used equipment is easiest to locate and obtain, so waste can be reduced)
o Seisō (清掃) : Systematic Cleaning (keep your working space, both physically and virtually, clean and tidy, for everything a place and everything in place)
o Seiketsu (清潔) : Standardize (uniform procedures must be ensured, so that everybody will know what to do when and how)
o Shitsuke (躾) : Service (make sure that all procedures are followed with discipline and prevent backslide)
Lean can be implemented relatively quickly, but it still requires effort and involvement of every employee.
- TPS is more a lifestyle or culture, based on reducing costs, improving quality and investment in people. Because of this, quick wins are less an option than long term solutions and a stable and financially healthy business is preferable over quick profits. Improvements of the process can be proposed by all employees. After thorough investigation, it just might be that an improvement is implemented. On the other hand: it takes some years to have the culture changed so that every employee understands and lives this way, but also can teach it to others.
In part 2, I will discuss how to implement lean working on a secretary service center.