Is Your Office Lean?


Lean originated in manufacturing and is often thought of only in the context of manufacturing processes.  Lean also, however, offers great opportunity for improvement in service and administrative office settings regardless of the industry, manufacturing or otherwise.

Atkinson (2004)1 discusses the potential gains of lean implementation in service office settings as follows:

We think the Lean concept has an incredible opportunity for improvement in most service organisations. In his early 1980’s rewrite of ‘Quality is Free’ Philip Crosby highlights estimates that as much as 40% of staff operating costs of businesses can be wasted. This illustrates how Lean could benefit service type organisations (p. 20).

Process Excellence Network2 suggests even higher potential gains for implementing lean in an administrative office setting:

Hard figures on how much of the administrative processes are classed as waste under the lean principle – those which provide no added value to the end user – are difficult to come by. Yet with some experts suggesting it could be 80 percent or higher, the area is clearly one which needs attention (para. 3).

The tools for lean initiatives in an office are identical to those for manufacturing, but elements to observe and measure regarding wastes are different.  Here is a summary excerpted from Nichole (2011)3:

Examples of Waste In An Office Setting

  • Transportation = movement of the work.  Transportation of electronic files is particularly insidious because it frequently results in multiple, varying copies of the work, which must eventually be reconciled.
  • Inventory = work that is waiting to be processed.  Inventory can be found in e-mail or work order in-boxes, to-do lists, product development pipelines, and resource assignment charts.
  • Motion = people moving or working without producing.  Meetings are motion in the sense that they are work without producing, unless a decision is made or information is produced during the meeting.
  • Waiting = people waiting for information in order to do work.  This is another common result of multi-tasking, and also the primary cause of multi-tasking.  Unfortunately, when the one thing finally becomes ready, we tend to finish what we started before getting back to it.
  • Overproduction = producing unnecessary work or deliverables.  Overproduction shows up in multiple copies of information, producing reports that aren’t read, writing formal documents or content where only the table is read, reply all.
  • Over Processing = unnecessary effort to get the work done.  Over Processing shows up in additional signature approvals, data entry or data format changes.
  • Defects = any work that did not accomplish its purpose or was not correct the first time.  Defects include late work, incorrect information, conflicting information.
  • Underutilized Skills, Ideas = capabilities of people that are not used or leveraged.  This happens frequently in large organizations where the skills and backgrounds of everyone are not common knowledge.

Consider all aspects of your organization when implementing lean initiatives.


1Atkinson, P. (2004). Creating and Implementing Lean Strategies. Management Services (18-33).  Retrieved from: http:/

2Process Excellence Network (n.d.). An Introduction to Lean Office. Retrieved from:

3Nichole, A. (2011). Lean in the Office: 8 Wastes. Business Wisdom Within. Retrieved from: