Lean Office

One Person, One Piece Flow

By Jon Miller Published on October 1st, 2007

One piece flow is not just for the manufacturing shop floor. Actually – even in office settings where one piece flow is starting to come into use it is done with numerous people.
I have been through Kaizen Products’ Factory Flow simulation, the one with the folding of the airplane, in numerous groups and classes. I have seen office, admin and accounting functions done with one piece flow. I even had one piece flow in most of my tasks when I had an assistant or someone else to help me in the office.
But did you know that you can do it all on your own and get similar results.
This was brought to my attention when I was in Japan with Gemba Research. One of the sites that we visited had us do the same simulation, only by our selves. It was amazing for me to see this actually work. And being that I am alone quite often in the office, or have sensitive information I can’t share with others – I now can save myself time and correct errors with one piece flow.
Take my bill pay for example. I used to block off an hour of my time on Thursdays to complete this. We are a small company so the most bills we have ever had in one week is ten.
This was my process:
1. Pull out all the bills that need to be paid that week. – 2 min
2. Write the checks for each of them. 8-10 minutes
3. Note the check number, amount and date on each invoice – 5-8 minutes
4. Open QuickBooks bill pay – Record each check and amount to each bill. –5-8 minutes
5. Address and stamp an envelope for each bill and seal –10-20 minutes
6. Take all invoice copies to file cabinet and file each in their corresponding files –5-8 minutes.

Total time it took me? 35 – 56 minutes depending on the amount of bills.

Now – I only block off 30 minutes of my time.
This is my process:
1. Open Bill pay in Quick Books – 30 seconds
2. Pull out all bills file. – 45 seconds
3. Pull out check book, envelopes and stamps – 20 seconds
For each bill
1. Check off bill in QuickBooks – 5 seconds
2. Pull corresponding bill out of file – double check amount and numbers – 10 seconds
3. Write check – 30 seconds
4. Note check number, date and amount on invoice – 10 seconds
5. Enter check number in QuickBooks – 5 seconds
6. Address, stamp and seal envelope – 45 seconds
7. File Invoice – 15 seconds
8. Repeat 1-7 for each bill until finished.
Now if you are doing the math – it takes me about a minute and a half to prepare for this process, and about 2 minutes (120 seconds) to complete each bill pay.
As I stated at the beginning of these processes, the most I ever have to do is 10 bills a week – 10 x 2 plus the 2 minute set up would be 22 minutes in total.
Compared to the longest it ever took me of 56 minutes – 34 minutes in time I can put to other tasks.
Fixing Errors:
Because I am doing each of them individually –
1. I am double checking amounts and numbers between QuickBooks and the invoice – where I wasn’t before.
2. I don’t have the opportunity to place the wrong check in the wrong envelope.

Overall – one person – one piece flow works.

  1. Eric H

    October 7, 2007 - 9:59 am

    Try online bill payment. My “before” analysis was similar to yours, my “after” analysis breaks down like this:
    1. Receive e-mail confirmation (~100 milliseconds)
    2. Click next (2 seconds)
    Total time: 2.1 seconds for each bill.
    Cost of checks, envelopes, postage, and value of time to purchase checks, envelopes, postage before: $X
    Cost of checks, envelopes, postage, and value of time to purchase checks, envelopes, postage after: $0
    I suggested this to someone at work. He said that he didn’t trust them to have his checking account information. Newsflash: every time you send them a check, they get your checking account information. How do you think they comply with the 24 hour processing mandate?

  2. Marcie M

    October 8, 2007 - 2:56 pm

    Hi Eric –
    Thank you for the comment. This is a good point that you bring up – I had left this out.
    I do have this in my process as well, though I still have to do the majority of my steps – step 3 is replaced with entering in the online bill payer – step six is removed – this cuts approximately 1 minute off my time.
    Personally I am like you – I do all of my bill pay online – I find it very useful and more accurate than writing checks.
    Unfortunately I cannot do this with all of my bills, about half of our business expenses, as some companies and people do not allow this, or have the option to do so.

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