This article is also found on #ONTSECRETARESSEN (Dutch and in one part only).
In my previous article, I wrote about the differences and resemblances of the three ways. In this part, I will go deeper: how to implement Lean.
First, you have to determine which method is best for a supporting department. Since Six Sigma focusses a lot on saving money and TPS is more a company culture, I personally think Lean is the best method. Next question is: how?
- Identify the customer value of your product / service. What is your added value, as individual and as department? Not only the feel of it (it is okay to make good coffee, but really… is this your only added value?), but the true added value, the value you can be held accountable for. Take a piece of paper and write down what you are really doing. You will be surprised. Break down this list into pieces: what gives really added value, what is really part of your core business and what is not? Rate your work. For example: keeping agendas can be rated as “1” (important), while changing the toner can be rated as “3” (not important; others can be held responsible for the printers as well). You should be focussing on items rated as “1” primarily and discard items rated as “3”, which should be responsibility of everyone within the company or are services “grown out of habit”.
- Identify all steps to create this value. Eliminate unnecessary steps. Well, now you have determined what actions really create added value, you can identify all the steps. Take a blank piece of paper, and write down what you do to achieve your goal. After you have finished, blank your mind and see if there are any unnecessary steps to eliminate. E.g.: why should you have to print documents for everyone? You can also provide the documents online (on a sharepoint site or something like that). Why should your storage be on the other side of the hallway, while people ask you to get their pens and tape? Either start a “request system” with a daily collection moment, or – if possible – move the storage to a room closer to you so unnecessary walking (“waste of time”) is out of the question. It will take some time for people to get used to, but it is all about efficiency.
- Create continuity in all steps, so the product / service “flows” to your customer. This is a hard one, because as a supporting professional, you are partly dependent on other people. Plan your work if known, leave sufficient time inbetween to handle all unplanned, but necessary work. Being proactive is an important part of this, because when you know what to expect in the near future, you can plan your work and – if you are a team leader – your people better. If it helps, make a visual schedule of the daily main tasks, like “telephone service”, “preparing meetings / making minutes”, and assign people to these tasks. Let the people rotate, so in the end everyone will be responsible for the complete service. Create a flow of evenly spread work without being rigid in any way.
- When the flow is introduced / implemented, offer your product / service based on the pull system. You can co-work better if your colleagues know what you are doing and how they can co-operate, so there is a constant flow of work and workers. Let your “customers” (both internal and external) know what they can expect from your department. Make agreements with other departments for exchanging personnel when needed. Eliminate the “That is not my job” culture where possible. Discuss with members and teamleaders of other teams about how you can help and support each other, without losing the focus on the core business of each team. Again, be proactive, but don’t be rigid.
- Improve constantly from point 1. Have the workload divided evenly and therefore constantly, without making extra costs. No one within the department should be waiting for others to have their work finished, before they can start with their work. The PDCA cycle of mr. W. Edwards Deming is of high importance here. It is also known as Kaizen, continuous improvement. New insights, new technology, sometimes a new management… they all can contribute to a change of work. The goal is always to provide the best service at the most cost efficient way.
Remember that Lean is not an instant money saving plan. It might take some investments before profits can be harvested, both in money as in time. Make sure that you visualize your action plan and that it covers all investments and collaborate with your direct colleagues. Make it a plan of the whole department.
Keep yourself and your colleagues focussed. It is common in some companies to have daily “stand up meetings”, a five-minute-meeting where the work load and schedule of the day are discussed and assigned. This can save you a lot of time and people know what they have to do or where to go.
And… do not forget to have a lunch or a coffee moment together, every few weeks. Just for social purposes.
I am pro paperless office. But sometimes, having a physical sheet of paper can be helpful to order your thoughts, so make use of it when you like it.