Waste in the Office

by theleanthinker

Yesterday I was speaking to a fellow Lean enthusiast about waste, not waste from the factory floor, but waste in the office. He said that the company he worked for had several issues with office waste, before a Lean action plan was created and implemented.

One major waste which was immediately noted was inventory. As mentioned in a previous post, inventory is one of the 7 deadly wastes, and it is responsible for a whole host of consequences preventing Lean from being as effective as possible. So what was all this inventory waste? Paper, pens, files, and notepads you name it; almost everyone had multiples of these items. This was not through necessity, but purely because people felt the items in the store cupboard would diminish, therefore they must stock up with what they think they need, for weeks/months ahead.

To solve this problem, an amnesty was created, whereby all employees were asked to return all the non-used, non-essential items to the store cupboard. For future withdrawals, a short form had to be filled in, so that the usage levels could be quantified, and abnormal use would be more apparent. It has since been found that the ordering of office supplies has reduced dramatically, and significant cost savings have been made.

Along with the extra materials, it was found that 30% of staff printed out all emails, whether they read them or not. Even if the emails were just short messages like “OK Steve, I’ve updated the information, Thanks”. This was obviously a waste in terms of money, and also reduced the company efforts to be green, as well as Lean. To solve this problem, employees were asked to talk to each other, rather than send emails. This would be done either over the phone, or in person (this company is small, so in one office). As well as a clear reduction in paper usage, communication of ideas and information was much stronger. I can see some Lean thinkers screaming “Motion” or “Movement” with regards to employees walking around the office to chat to one another, however the office, as mentioned above, is small, and the benefits of improved communication counterbalanced this extra movement of staff. As a side note, the emails also had a default message attached to the bottom, explaining that people should “think before they print”.

Within the emailing system we found that the response to emails was not particularly prioritised. Due to the employees receiving a large amount of emails per day, we found that to help the recipient prioritise their mail, in the subject a deadline date should be included. This allowed staff to instantly identify more urgent emails, before they even opened them. To further the email waste reduction, we also said that all emails should have been read at least once before the end of the day. This meant that urgent emails were acted upon instantly, otherwise they were placed into folders such as: “By end of the day”, “By end of the week”. This meant that employees could organise their time and emails accordingly.

So to summaries, if you’re constantly reordering highlighters maybe it’s time to see where they’re all going. If you’re bogged down with emails, perhaps just go see the person you need to see, as a 5 minute discussion may save you 10 emails back and forth.

p.s. For 5 simple and quick email tips, I found a nice website here: 5 fast email productivity tips.