More and more manufacturers are implementing principles to minimize waste and increase efficiency, stripping out processes that do not create customer value, trying to create lean offices. However, it’s becoming clear that the shop floor is not the only part of the operation responsible for extended lead times.
While the manufacturing processes are the core of the business, the path from idea to invoice is a much longer one. The entire business consists of administrative tasks, sales, marketing, IT, engineering, product development and other ‘behind the scenes’ activities. Companies need to be treated as a whole if lead times are to be truly minimized.
For this reason, a lean office is becoming an important focus area for manufacturers seeking greater profitability and optimum customer satisfaction. Even organizations that are extremely lean on the shop floor can still be burning money through non-value adding administrative inefficiencies and poor organization of both people and processes. With labor costs often exceeding 50 percent of an organization’s total operating expenses, employees who are under or ineffectively utilized have a major impact on the bottom line.
Where can we go looking for improvements for creating lean offices?
Look for blocked administrative workflows — Clearly define operational procedures by project for office staff, so they can find information and make good, real-time decisions.
Take down document barriers — Documentation sitting in queues waiting for approval or review is certainly likely to be one of the worst barriers to office efficiency. Tracking the time it takes to turn around an engineering change order is just as relevant as tracking custom assemblies. Experience tells us that time needed to complete an activity will expand to meet the time available, so it’s important not to give tasks the opportunity to stall.
Stop over communicating — Lots of businesses are doing more than is necessary to get the job done, draining resources and time with activities that deliver no value. It seems strange, but examples abound. Think about the irritating ‘reply all’ emails that clog your inbox, or multiple copies of ‘FYI’ reports that await commentary and consolidation to little real effect. They eat up time by distracting people’s attention, and by encouraging people to wait for responses. Addressing this kind of office culture and streamlining processes can have a major impact on the speed with which tasks can be processed.
Third parties should not be forgotten — In the same way that shop floor lean processes can encompass externally managed inventory and vendor portals, lean offices can include third parties who contribute information in the early phases of projects. Ensuring that smooth processes and efficient workflows don’t break down when externals are involved should be a major consideration when evaluating room for improvement.
The lean office plays a big role in efficient operations and customer satisfaction. A well-designed system of workflows in place at the administrative level ensures nothing goes missing in the entire process — from order to fulfillment.
If you’re looking to get lean in the office and on the shop floor, talk with us at Parallel Solutions at (440) 498-9920. We’ve been in the ERP business for over 28 years and can help you choose the information and workflow management system that is right for you.