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September 27th, 2022

Applying Lean principles to the office environment it’s not about ‘taking away all the interesting bits and turning your staff into robots.  But more about removing waste so your teams can spend more time on creative or considerative steps that will deliver more value to the customer.

A model of Lean implementation considered effective in an office environment is the Rapid Improvement Event (RIE), sometimes also referred to as a Kaizen Blitz Event.

Download the RIE Methodology here.

What is a Rapid Improvement Event?

The RIE is an improvement approach where intense activity occurs over a short period of time, typically one week. Overall activity duration, including scoping, planning, training, etc. occurs over a period of between four to eight weeks, dependent upon the complexity of the issue being addressed.

To bring about significant improvements in performance in a short period of time; the approach focuses on a small number of different work teams or processes without a high degree of complexity. It also relies on using the people involved in the process, those who do the job every day.

Quick wins

illustrating quick wins for a Lean OfficeWe have this approach is preferred by line managers because it provides a faster return on effort, is more visible, and does not challenge existing management styles to the same extent as full implementation.

Staff also like it as they feel engaged in a process that quickly achieves improvement.

The only downside is that the ‘quick wins’ may be difficult to sustain when they are not easily integrated into the overall strategy of the organisation.

The RIE approach below illustrates a high-level view of stages and timings

A high level view of stages & timings of an RIE approach for a Lean Office

With this approach, the change required is quickly identified and offers solutions as well as allowing those taking part to plan the actions required for implementation.  It also utilises Lean tools and techniques to:

  1. Define, understand, and measure the existing process or Current State
  2. Identify waste and process failings
  3. Identify the root cause of this process waste
  4. Develop a revised and significantly improved new process or Future State
  5. Document the new process in a format that a review team would find the most user friendly
  6. Implement the improvements and bring into realisation the Future State
  7. Monitor and review progress
The timeline below adds more detail to the high-level view:

Detailed view of stages and activities of an RIE approach for a Lean Office

Fundamentally, the RIE approach is simply focused on answering three basic questions:

  • Where are we today? – Current State
  • Where do we want to be? – Future State
  • How do we get there?
Consider carefully how waste manifests itself in offices

In the office environment waste exists but usually doesn’t manifest itself in a physical form and sometimes it is actively managed.  It’s not uncommon to see staff using ‘work arounds’ with off-line spreadsheets or numerous meetings.  Worse than that, we occasionally see reward management of waste through recognition of constantly fire-fighting the same fires.

Waste in the office environment, once pointed out, tends to be easy to spot and is termed ‘Surface Wastes’.

Here are some examples of the eight wastes associated with Applying Lean Thinking in the office environment.

Typical surface wastes:

  • Transportation – retrieving or storing files, carrying or posting paperwork
  • Inventory – open projects, unread or no actionable emails, old database records, batching orders
  • Motion – searching for files, hand offs and waiting for approvals moving from one system (or screen) to another
  • Idle Time – waiting for systems to come online, waiting for customer response, waiting for approval and sign-off
  • Over Processing – repeated manual entry of data, detailed report when a phone call would do, more information than the customer needs, over-regulation and layers of approvals, duplication and additional checking
  • Defects, Rejects, Rework – data entry errors, missing information, pricing errors
  • Over Production – doing more or ahead of customer need, doing reports no one actions, making extra copies
  • Skills Misuse – using skilled workers for low-skilled work, using the wrong equipment

Lean Rapid Improvement Events are a great tool if you are looking to drive performance improvement and get team members and managers excited.

However, always remember that to achieve the full, sustainable Continuous Improvement culture that Lean supports, just doing RIEs will not be sufficient.

Bourton Group is an operational management consultancy whose expertise lies in business transformation and change management.  By engaging leaders and teams in our advisory support programmes we can deliver measurable and sustainable improvement in business processes and people performance.

Want to keep up to date with best practices about applying Lean and Leadership and hear from others in similar continuous improvement and leadership roles about their success stories? Sign up here to be part of our Lean and Leaders community.

Bourton Group LLP the award-winning Operational Improvement Consultancy – read more about our award-winning project here.

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