Sustaining Results in the Lean Office

During a recent Lean Office seminar, audience members were interested in the question of how to sustain office kaizen results. As in any type of kaizen, a lot of things have to go right before results achieved during one week of intense improvement activity will sustain over the long haul. These things include management support, workforce involvement & communication, rapid completion & implementation of ideas, etc.
The one thing that matters more in Lean Office implementations (more so than factory kaizen) is making the process visual. In simple terms this means… the walls must go! The cubicles must go! Bring on the open office! Improve visibility, communication, space use, 5S, enable work to flow and pull.
Why is it that we are willing to remove visual barriers in the factory in the name of Lean, but there is so much resistance to removing walls, partitions, and cubicles in the office? It has a lot to do with culture, and how people perceive ‘office work’ to be different from other work such as in the factory.
Letting the attitude that work in the office is somehow different from other types of value added work exist is the biggest threat to sustaining gains in through office kaizen. It is no different than removing the personal tool boxes or removing the inventory in front of the machine. Both represent comfort and safety, and require education, training and a dose of “What’s in it for me?” to overcome.
We at Gemba do kaizen on our own operations. We practice what we preach. We have removed the walls and work in an open office. The more we work in a Lean Office (open room) the more we wonder how we ever managed to work inside walls.