Lean in Office Tutorial

Welcome to the sixth chapter of the Lean Management tutorial (part of the Lean Management Certification Training).

Here, we will talk in detail about “Lean in office.”

In the next section, we will start with the agenda of what we are going to cover in this lesson and then go into detail about Lean in office.


We shall briefly cover the topics on

  • Background of Lean in office, then, talk about

  • Lean implementation in the office with relevant

  • Examples of 5s and waste

In the next section, we will start with Lean in office background.


In this section, we will cover how Lean manufacturing principles are applied to Lean implementation in office. This is based on the original Toyota Production System principles and adapted, redefined in the office context.

The objective of Lean in office is to “streamline and eliminate waste from administrative processes and adding value.” The office takes information, works on it, and converts it into another form of information; this is no different from any other form of manufacturing. We can apply any of the Lean tools on this process with a little thought.

This Lean process can make more improvements in areas such as lead times, than in any other area. You will also often find that more of your delays and problems originate from your office processes than your shop floor processes, how often do your production people complain that they only get a few days’ notices from the 6 weeks lead time that the customer gave?

In the next section, we will specifically talk about Lean in office and will cover some of the tools and waste identification and elimination in office.

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5S in Office

One might wonder how 5S is used in the office. 5S is as applicable in the office as it is in any other setting on the factory floor. Workplace organization is important irrespective of the type of workplace.

Some people might think that lean manufacturing tools such as 5S are only for production process but they apply to any process and the office is just another process.

5S is about making a workplace more efficient by removing all of the unnecessary clutter, laying out the remaining items ergonomically and safely and maintaining and continually improving these changes.

5S in office in lean management

The following sections will describe each of the steps of office 5S and how they can be applied to the office environment. This is best done with the help of an expert to provide 5S training to the staff and motivate and coach them in the process.

Seiri (Sort in the Lean Office)

The first step of 5S is applicable within the office, there are often old documents, files, catalogs, pieces of equipment, old samples, and a host of other clutter on desks, hidden in and behind cupboards and generally taking up space and getting in our way.

Be firm with what you remove, if it is not needed junk it. Far too many people keep things such as hoarding, old catalogs just because they might come in handy one day, but how often do they come handy? Not very often!

Follow the same process as for any other 5S implementation on your production processes, throw the obvious rubbish, put unknown items into a quarantine area, red tag any items that cannot be easily removed if they are not required or not functioning. (Yes you can keep the potted plant but keep it out of the flow of the work!).

Recall the characteristics used to identify Seiri from the “Tools” lesson. Once you have removed the obvious clutter, review the quarantined items and agree on the disposition as a team, if it is something which is needed then put it in a place where it is required, if it can be archived do so, and so on for each item.

Seiton (Set for the Lean Office)

This is the point where many people become unstuck and go too far in some cases, we are not looking to label every hole punch and stapler and have small squares taped on the desks identifying where they belong for every member of the office staff, although this may be a reasonable move for the desk beside the photocopier if people are always hunting for the stapler here!

The point within the office is to consider the process and the flow through the office, not the pieces of stationary that each person has. Consider what information enters the office and where, do you have in-trays organized on each desk, is work distributed into a pigeon hole system.

However, things are organized, consider how it will flow to the person that needs it. Remember we want to bring things close to where they are needed. Consider the location of the office equipment, is the photocopier stuck in the far corner where everyone has to walk to it, is the paper for the machine in the opposite corner due to lack of space. Is the toner stored in a storeroom as it is too expensive to leave lying around?

Bring all these to the best location for those that need them. Look at the office printers, does everyone have one, or are you like most modern offices with a few networked printers, are they in the right place and are the consumables for them near to hand, to cut out walking for things.

Ensure that file cabinet are organized correctly and located where needed. It should not be stored in a row on the opposite side of the office, i.e., files are to be organized in such a way that people are to locate brochures and catalogs easily and it should not be a library to which they have to walk.

Color code files and the like for specific areas of work such as making all customer order files red, supplier files blue, etc., This will make it immediately clear what is what and where it belongs.

Consider the virtual office and the “filing cabinets” there, how many of your people really know how to organize their documents on their computers?

How many times have you asked for something and then waited for someone to search their directories hunting for the document unsure of where they have put (how often have you done it yourself?)

Because of all these settings for the Lean office becomes essential.

Seiso (Shine and Check in the Lean Office)

Much like in the production area, clean the place up thoroughly and keep it that way, assign responsibilities and define exactly what needs to be done.

Seiketsu (Standardize in the Lean Office)

Same principles as factory apply to get standardization in office. Similar design principles and audit approach are used to ensure individuals keep the office tidy, clean, and standardized.

People even run competitions for the best office desk space. It is not uncommon to photograph the best desk space and most untidy desk space during audits and display in common areas.

Shitsuke (Sustain the Lean Office)

Often the hardest part in the office as it is within the factory is sustaining the 5S improvements we have done and making it part of our everyday routine. Too often we fail in this step, and the changes we have made and the improvements created slowly start to disappear until we lose the benefits that we have gained.

It is essential that all of the previous steps are repeated and maintained to ensure that you do not lose the benefits of the work that you have done.

Ensure that new employees are trained in the principles of Lean manufacturing and 5S and fully understand how they can contribute to the functioning of the company as a whole.

Types of Waste in Office

In the earlier lesson, you have heard about the 7 main types of waste and couple more. In this section, we will cover the first 7 waste and the additional one which is underutilization of skills.

While several examples could be talked about, we have listed a couple of them for you to get the perspective.

Defects: Defects are not good in any environment, it causes rework, scrap, etc., some of the examples are errors in data entry, pricing errors, a file or record containing important information is lost, or some Incorrect information is printed on a report or document.

Overproduction: This is a typical type of waste that you will see in many places. For example, creating reports that no one reads or needs, printing paperwork before it is needed by somebody, processing paperwork before the next person is ready for it or printing more copies of notice or circular than needed, etc.

Inventory: One would see this type of waste is widespread in office space. Things like office supply, sales literature, reports, etc., are some of the inventory types of waste.

Non-Value-Add-Processing: It is the effort that adds no value to the product or service from the customers’ viewpoint.

Some of the examples of this waste are reentering data, extra copies of some documents or reports, excessive review of something or multiple rounds of approvals or signatures.

Waiting: How often one has to wait for something to happen? This is pretty common in an office space. A period of time delay spent while expecting something to happen or ready for something to happen is the waiting type of waste.

Examples include slow system response time or downtime, waiting for approvals to happen before starting the work or moving in the process, waiting for previous process step to complete or waiting for instructions.

Extra Motion: They are excessive or unnecessary emails and document; emails get forwarded multiple times sometimes with large attachments due to multiple distribution groups.

Transportation: One might think what waste would be in an office space for transportation. There are a bunch of waste items that fall into this category, some of them are due to poor office layout, people might have to walk a lot to meet somebody they work with, fax machines, copiers laid out too far or coffee machine it too far, etc.

If your office has multiple locations or spread across multiple floors if the teams working are split, it will cause further waste.

Underutilization: When people are doing some work which can be carried out by people with lower skill, it will fall into this type of waste.

An example will be when an employee is in charge of some work with only limited authority or responsibility even for basic tasks, it adds overhead for approvals. This would lead to underutilization of the skills. If management has too much command and control, also leads to underutilization.

Inadequate or unavailable business tools can also cause some of the employee’s skills to be underutilized.

We will next summarize what we have learned in this lesson.

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Here is what we have covered in this lesson.

  • Background of Lean

  • Lean in office

  • Similarities between Lean office and lean manufacturing

  • 5S in office

  • Waste identification in office


Next, in the seventh chapter, we will learn about Lean Metrics.

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  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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