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July 7th, 2016

Lean principles applied in the office are not about ‘taking away all the interesting bits’ and turning staff into robots, but fundamentally about removing waste in order that staff can spend more time on creative or considerative steps that add more value to the customer.

A model of Lean implementation often deployed to great effect in an office environment is the Rapid Improvement Event, sometimes also referred to as a Kaizen Blitz Event.

The Rapid Improvement Event (RIE) is an improvement methodology where an intense improvement activity occurs over a short period, typically 1 week. Overall activity duration, including scoping, planning, training, etc. occurs over a period of between 4-8 weeks, dependent upon the complexity of the issue being addressed.  This approach brings about significant improvements in performance that encompasses a small number of different work teams or processes without a high degree of complexity.  It relies on the fact that the participants, who do the job every day, are the people best placed to identify process improvements.

Quick wins


This approach is usually preferred by line managers because it provides a faster return on effort, is more visible and does not challenge existing management control styles to the same extent as full implementation.

Staff also like it as they feel engaged in a process that quickly achieves improvement. The disadvantage is that the ‘quick wins’ may be difficult to sustain when they are not easily integrated into the overall strategy of the organisation.




The typical methodology and timing for a RIE is shown below:

rapid improvement

This methodology identifies the change required, gives solutions and allows participants to plan the actions required for implementation.  The approach utilises Lean tools and techniques to:

  • Define, understand and measure the existing process or Current State
  • Identify waste and process failings
  • Identify the root cause of this process waste
  • Develop a revised and significantly improved new process or Future State
  • Document the new process in a format that a review team would find the most user friendly
  • Implement the improvements and bring into realisation the Future State
  • Monitor and review progress

The overall RIE approach generally consists of a number of discrete stages. The table below gives some additional detail to the approach:

rie table



















Fundamentally, the RIE approach is simply focused on answering 3 basic questions:

  • Where are we today? – Current State
  • Where do we want to be? – Future State
  • How do we get there?

We need to consider carefully how waste manifests itself in offices. In the office environment waste exists but usually doesn’t manifest itself in a physical form.  In fact waste is sometimes actively managed; staff find ‘work arounds’ with off-line spreadsheets or numerous meetings.  Worse than that, we 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 as ‘Surface Wastes’. Here are some examples of the eight wastes associated with 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 that drives performance improvement and can get team members and managers excited. However, always remember that to achieve the full, sustainable Continuous Improvement culture that Lean advocates, just doing RIEs will not be sufficient.

Bourton Group are experts on configuring improvement programmes within Office and Service environments that deliver real, bottom line benefits as well as providing sustainable performance improvement. If you need help maximising the performance of your Lean or Six Sigma programme, please get in touch.

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