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Lean Tools, Training, and Systems

Lean Office and Lean Services

Lean Office Tools for Lean Service, Lean Administration, and Lean Government


Lean Office vs.

Lean Manufacturing



Video: Intro to Systems2win templates



Commonalities between

Lean Office and Lean Manufacturing

Most Tools are the same

Tool Selection Matrix Excel template

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Tool Selection Matrix

Most Lean Tools are the same

Use use the Service column in your Systems2win Tool Selection Matrix to filter for the templates that are most popular to use in a Lean Service environment.

(But don't limit yourself to just the popular tools.
EVERY tool COULD be creatively used to improve Lean Office or Service processes.)

Definitions are the same

Lean definitions and teachings can be applied to both a Lean Manufacturing and a Lean Office environment without any modification

IF (and this is the big stumbling block)...
IF Lean authors, teachers, and practitioners use terminology that does not assume that the thing being transformed is a physical inventory item

Lean teachings and methods are mostly the same

There are some differences, but 95% of Lean concepts can be successfully applied to ANY industry.

Return again and again to the Hansei questions to stimulate Lean Thinking.

A back-office value stream is just as likely as a manufacturer to employ lean concepts such as kanbans, heijunka, jidoka, kaizen, and the other new words for process improvement that happen to be Japanese words (because most lean concepts came from Toyota)

The Lean Journey is the same

yellow brick road

Road map for a typical
Lean Transformation

If (and this is a big if...)

If your lean leadership chooses to commit to a lean transformation, then the road map for a typical lean journey is the same for a bakery, a bank, a home-builder, hotel, or hospital

Lean Management is the same

Lean management systems are the same.

Value Stream Mapping is the same

The purposes of value stream mapping are the same

Value stream mapping symbols are the same

The step-by-step instructions for how to do value stream mapping are the same

Every lean application is an invention

Your process does not have to resemble an automotive assembly operation to benefit from lean transformation.

Every lean application is an invention, one you derive from a small set of lean principles:

  • Understand value from the customer's perspective.
  • Find the value stream that produces value.
  • Focus on the processes in the value stream
    to identify and eliminate sources of waste from it.
  • Strive to make the value stream responsive to your customers' demands.
  • And keep repeating these steps.

~ David Mann, Creating a Lean Culture


Lean Office Case Study

Expense Reimbursement

lean office value stream map

Sample Office Value Stream Map example. Download free trial


Differences between

Lean Office and Lean Manufacturing

Customer is often also a Supplier

It is common in a lean service environment for the Customer to also be the Supplier of some (or all) of what is needed for the process inputs.

If your value stream map is unusually simplistic, (like the sample above), then you can use a single shape for the supplier/Customer — with arrows going both to and from that shape.

For a more complex process, you will find that having all of your arrows converging to one shape will prove unnecessarily confusing. The information flow section of your value stream map will be much more understandable if you use 2 shapes: 1 on the left for "customer as supplier" and 1 on the right for "customer".

You can see an example of this more common convention when you unhide the Pre-Production Tier in the sample data found on the Sample sheet in your Value Stream Mapping template.

There is usually more opportunity

There is usually more opportunity for process improvement in an office environment.

  1. Almost every manufacturing process has an engineer focused on improving the process.

    Very few office processes have received that kind of attention.

  2. 25–60% of costs in a typical manufacturer come from back office processes and 100% in some industries
  3. Most office people haven't even heard of many Lean teachings so there is usually a lot of low-hanging fruit

The 'thing being transformed' probably isn't inventory

The thing being transformed is often the flow of data (either paper or electronic) that is needed to provide a service.

When you read books written by myopic authors, wherever you see words like 'inventory' or 'parts', simply substitute the words 'the thing being transformed' — and then exercise your mind to contemplate how the lean concept that you're reading about might be creatively applied in YOUR work environment.

Service Value Stream segments are often shared

While it is true that no matter what you deliver, there is only one value stream per Product Family, it is not uncommon to have multiple value stream maps each focusing on different segments of the value stream.

While Lean Manufacturing and Lean Healthcare focus on the center of the value stream, Lean Office and Service often focus on segments shared by multiple value streams.

Continuous Flow is achieved differently

There aren't many office or service processes that fill an entire work shift.

VSM-Design templateVSM-Design Volume Mix

Design Guideline templates
come with your
Value Stream Mapping templates

Follow the links in your Value Stream Design Guidelines templates to online training for how to design

and other powerful techniques to achieve lean flow for service and office value streams

Work Time Available is different

There aren't many office or service processes that fill an entire work shift.

Standard Work template

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Standard Work template

So, after you have designed your processes for lean office 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 an office 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

Visual Controls are even more important

Having lean systems for visual controls are even more important in an office environment because the progression of work is often hidden inside of computers and papers and desperately needs to be unhidden and made visible.

Experts are often under-utilized

When subjected to more careful scrutiny, many tasks that are initially believed to require performance by a specialist can often be delegated to a well-trained and supervised employee with far lower educational requirements

Cross Functional Flowchart template

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Functional Flowchart
that does math
that Visio can't

often by using a well-designed Decision Logic Tree

A more liberal definition of "value add"

Many office processes do not perform a single step that an end customer would label as value add so the traditional definition is not useful.

Notice that your cross functional flowchart allows you to define value add codes that are useful and motivating in an office environment.

The Demand Unit of Measure might be different

On the Sample page of your Value Stream Mapping template, unhide the Pre-Production tier of processes, and notice that your template allows you to define a different Default Demand Unit of Measure for Pre and Post Production Processes

(which are almost always office or service processes
like quote processing, custom engineering, site preparation...)

In the example in your template, the Pre-Process Demand Unit of Measure is "Quotes" while the Demand UOM for the primary product is "Units" (and also notice that unlike any other value stream mapping software on the market, all calculations are correctly based on your estimated ratio of the number Quotes per Unit)

The Demand Unit of Measure for a service is also sometimes less obvious.

For example, the Demand UOM might be orders processed, or it might be line items processed, or the number of shipments...

Buffer and Safety Resources

Buffer and safety resources are less likely to consist of inventory, and more likely to include:

Kanban Calculator

Use your Kanban Calculator to calculate ideal levels for Buffer and Safety Resources

  1. Overtime
  2. Cross-training and departmental borrowing
  3. Temporaries
  4. Outsourcing
  5. Pre-trained workers available as needed (seasonal, retirees...)
  6. Customers that agree (in advance) to accept delay to allow load leveling to non-peak periods
  7. Contingency plans for possible scenarios
  8. Automation

There are more functional silos

Almost every production environment has one VP or Director or Plant Manager with ultimate responsibility for the safety, quality, delivery, and cost of "the thing being produced".

There is rarely such a well-defined Change Agent in an office environment.

Functional silos are the norm in an office environment. Even when people intellectually grasp the benefits of cross-functional value stream optimization — it is one thing to "get it" and another to "do it".

A strong Value Stream Manager with diligent long-term attention to lean management systems is even more important to overcome the recurring thought patterns of office workers that have spent their entire career in "departments" with well-defended boundaries.

Harness your thinkers

In manufacturing, responsibilities are well-defined, but it is a challenge to get people to think.

In an office, everyone's job requires them to think, but it is a challenge to untangle shared responsibilities

thereby making the A3 concept of pull-based authority kanban democracy even more valuable in an office environment.

Information often plays a much greater role

In the 'Information Control' section of your value stream map,

(and possibly a user-defined row in the Lean Metrics section)

it is often a very fruitful exercise to count the number of IT systems used, and set a goal of reducing time-wasting and mistake-causing redundant data entry.

Data accuracy is more important

While Rework may or may not be a critical factor for a production process...

whenever your are observing and analyzing any office or service process, it is absolutely essential to measure Percent Complete and Accurate.

5S Scorecard template

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5S Scorecard

5S audit criteria can be different

Office 5S audit criteria is often worded differently from production 5S audit criteria.

The User Substitutions feature on your Systems2win 5S Checklist allows your users to simply click a button to switch between your user-defined Office 5S Criteria and your user-defined Production 5S audit criteria

in a way that your personalized 5S criteria will be automatically found and transferred to your new templates every time that you upgrade!



Lean Service gotcha's

  1. Don't invent your own vocabulary

    Just because you need to substitute the words "the thing being transformed" wherever you see the word "inventory" doesn't mean that it is a good idea to start inventing your own (non-Japanese) words for everything else you learn about Lean.

    You will make it a LOT easier on your people if you teach them the same Lean definitions that are used in every Lean book that has ever been printed — instead of trying to translate for them by inventing your own vocabulary.

  2. Don't fall for the excuses

    Office workers can be masters of inventing "reasons that Lean won't work here".

    Just like any production environment, if you don't have an executive-level Change Agent who knows enough to see through excuses, and has enough political "juice" to make things happen, and is committed enough to use that juice to jolt people into action — then there is no reason to even start ANY process improvement project.

    Tool Selection Matrix Excel template

    Download your free trial
    Tool Selection Matrix

    Capable committed leadership is essential for ANY process improvement program, and (if possible) is even more essential for a Lean Office.

  3. Don't fall for Common Pitfalls

    The same Common Pitfalls encountered by all Lean newcomers

  4. Don't customize your templates too soon.

    Just because these Excel templates are so easy to personalize doesn't mean you should. Use your Tool Matrix to choose the right tool.

    Call us.  Ask questions. We can help.


Suggested Reading and Resources for

Lean Office and Administration






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