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Lean Tools, Training, and Systems

Lean Office Flow

Lean flow for office and service processes

Lean Office is different

As explained in our online training for Lean Office, many (most) lean concepts and methods are the same for both a production environment and in an office or service environment.

but there are important differences, and one of the most important differences is how you design a service process for lean flow.

There are very few service or office value streams that run like a production environment, handling a steady flow of the same type of work for a full 8 hour shift 5 days a week.

Lean Office Flow

Benefits of Lean Office Flow

This training page teaches several techniques for how to design Lean Office and Service processes to harness all of the benefits of Lean Flow.

Benefits of all of the techniques taught on this page

  1. They enable true lean flow in an office or service environment

    along with all of the long list of benefits that always come with lean flow

  2. They eliminate LOTS of non-value-add chasing of information

    because everyone knows when to expect work to be completed,
    and where they will find the completed deliverables

  3. They answer the question "When can I have it?"

    They enable office and service processes to publicly commit to a Guaranteed Turnaround Time


Periodic Processing Cells

One popular and powerful way to arrange for flow in an office or service environment

is to arrange everyone's schedule to come together at a predetermined place (often a work cell with specialized equipment and work areas designed to maximize flow)

at a predetermined time

(for example 10am)

on a predetermined schedule

(for example every Tuesday and Thursday)

for a predetermined amount of time

(for example 2 hours)

to accomplish a specific type of work

(for example, to process international pro forma invoice orders, or to handle all purchase requisition approvals, or to review and approve engineering change orders...)

working together as a team in a way that uses (or comes as close as possible to) one-piece lean flow

This is called a Periodic Processing Cell.

Learn more about each of the advanced techniques discussed on this training page by purchasing and reading the book Design for Operational Excellence, by Kevin Duggan.


Workflow Cycles

A Workflow Cycle is very similar to a Periodic Processing Cell

but instead of a special place where the team physically gathers,

the team instead works independently, and then delivers their expected results using agreed-upon pathways.

(a pathway might be electronic - like email, or physical - like a file folder)

The team still coordinates their schedules

to commit to completing their mutually-reliant-upon-each-other deliverables at agreed-upon times, on an agreed-upon schedule, which had better show up at the expected time using the expected delivery method.


Pretty much any process that could be handled using a Periodic Processing Cell could optionally also be handled using a Work Flow Cycle.

Periodic Processing Cells are better for things that might sometimes benefit from verbal interaction (such as approvals required from multiple managers).

Workflow Cycles are better for things that require a substantial amount of independent thinking (such as design, drafting, proposal preparation, etc.)


It might help to think of how a bus runs on a preset route, but only at preset known times

Visual Work

Because workflow for Lean Office processes is often hidden within computers, it is especially important to come up with creative ways to make office workflow meet the

Criteria for a Lean Visual Management System

Work Time Available

Once you have followed the above guidelines to design your lean office or service process to flow, then follow the instructions in the first training video for your Standard Work template to change 'Work Time Available' from 'Shift' to something more useful for a service environment

(perhaps Work Time Available for 'Periodic Processing for Weekly Purchase Approvals', or weekly Work Time Available for the cross-departmental Work Flow Cycle of 'Sales Order Processing', or Work Time Available for the Integration Event of 'New Product Turnover from Engineering to Production', or Work Time Available for the as-needed event of 'Hospital Room Patient Changeover'.)

Once your lean office managers become truly adept at getting the number right for 'Work Time Available', then suddenly you have all of the power of the Standard Work template to Document, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control ANY process

Standard Work template

The most powerful tool
in your lean toolkit

(even lean office and service processes)


Integration Events

Integration Events are Workflow Cycles that happen less frequently

usually exchanging a large amount of information.


New product turnover from engineering to production.

Financial statement month-end close.

Annual budget cycle.

Functional Flowchart


Your Swim Lane Cross Functional Flowchart is the right tool to Document, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control an Integration Event.

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