Lean Office

Steelcase to Bring Lean Office to China?

By Jon Miller Published on October 22nd, 2007

An article in the October 23, 2007 in the English version of the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily hints at a future for the Lean office in China. Titled Furniture firm builds presence, it is largely corporate PR announcing the expansion of Steelcase office furniture consultancy services into the Chinese market.
The existence of this Steelcase consultancy unit was news to me, but it sounds like fairly typical sales engineering. According to Joyce Bromberg, director of WorkSpace Futures – Explorations for Steelcase:
“Steelcase’s three-phased approach – ask, observe and experience – yields new ways to gain critical insights that help designers create environments based on how work really gets done,” said Bromberg.
And then we sell them furniture. Why didn’t we think of that!?
Steelcase is known to be a fairly Lean manufacturer. How well does their philosophy for designing office furniture systems fits in with Lean office concepts such as the open office, improved visibility, mobility, flexible use of space, design of space around process and purpose rather than people and position. One example of Steelcase success with Lean office implementation is given in the article:

Boeing Co is one of its clients. When an earthquake destroyed one of the main buildings at Boeing’s manufacturing site in Renton, Washington, the company transformed the way it works at the plant.
A 45-person engineering team moved into the plant for 90 days, tested workplace tools and processes, and began to reinvent Boeing culture. Staff thought about how their work flowed to and from others. The pilot space was a turning point – most of the 45 employees didn’t want to move into the plant from their white-collar offices. But by the end of the test, they didn’t want to leave. It turned into an opportunity for all Boeing staff to work together to continuously improve and trust one another to get the work done.
Boeing’s bold strategy of lean manufacturing in conjunction with a more effective work environment has reduced space occupancy by 40 percent and boosted productivity by 50 percent. It used to take Boeing 24 days to make a 737. Now it takes only 12 days.

How’s that Lean office Steelcase furniture working for Boeing? Have they managed to knock down any other walls in the Boeing offices, or did the experiment end at the 737 line? Friends at Boeing, what’s the inside scoop?
If you have first hand experience, tell us your impressions of the Steelcase office furniture consultancy process and results of this or similar projects. Inquiring minds on both sides of the Pacific want to know.

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