From Troubleshooter To Leader | Bodo Wiegand | Wiegand’s Watch

Bodo WiegandBodo Wiegand heads the Lean Management Institute, which is the German affiliate of the Lean Enterprise Institute. In his latest newsletter, on Wiegand’s Watch, he discusses the need for managers to go beyond the role of troubleshooter and become leaders.

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“Houston, we [the Germans] have a problem.” | Bodo Wiegand | Wiegand’s Watch

Bodo WiegandBodo Wiegand heads the Lean Management Institute, which is the German affiliate of the Lean Enterprise Institute. In his latest newsletter, on Wiegand’s Watch, he discusses the significance of recent problems in well-known German corporations, specifically VW, Siemens, and Deutsche Bank. The VW emissions test scandal has been covered in the media worldwide. Siemens executive were indicted for bribery last year in Greece, for acts related to the Athens Olympics in 2004, and the top management of Deutsche Bank was replaced in 2015 after scandals that included manipulating the London inter-bank lending rate (Libor), and mis-stating financial reports.

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Reduce maintenance costs? yes please – immediately | Wiegand’s Watch

Bodo WiegandThis is a translation of the bulk of Bodo Wiegand’s latest newsletter, about Lean in Germany, followed by my comments:

At the beginning of  this year I was at a company with a high level of Lean in Manufacturing and went into a discussion with the Board about how to go further the realize the full potential .

They did not want to get into the administrative areas, since there the world bosses were allowed to have their say — even though there was real potential there . But life in a matrix organization, as has been frequently noted , is very pleasant.  Before doubly protected kingdoms can be torn down, it takes usually a crisis or a new boss. You know my motto: “Give a slave of two masters and he is a free man . ”

Well then, what? We talked about opportunities in Manufacturing and, on our tour of the facilities, spent a bit more time on Maintenance. They were quite proud of the TPM plans they showed me, with a regular preventive maintenance plan, and involvement of production operators in routine maintenance. The whole range of tools set up and implemented was classic. Their pride was a new conveyor system, to which a maintenance technician was dedicated for inspections, routine maintenance, and troubleshooting . It sounded to me like: “With such investments, we must be able to afford this, to avoid the risk of failure .”

In another area , there were identical machines;  in the next hall several different presses. With the exception of heat treatment (3 shifts ) all areas were still working in 2 shifts. Of course, Maintenance is an area where you can see what happens inside just by looking from the outside. But my gut was telling me not to scream “wonderful” about the perfect organization. Instead, alarm bells went off and immediately came the question “What does the value stream look like?”  Proudly, the manager led me to the team leader room.  There hung the map. And I immediately saw  the date on which it was drawn. It was three years ago. Well, I expressed my concern: ” Is the new system taken into account ? ”

“No ”

This is a mistake we encounter often. Value streams change with the actions we perform and should be revised especially after new investments or major changes. Bottlenecks migrate and thereby change the production system. Back in the office, we discussed again his question of why the value stream is important to Maintenance.  I told him about Lean Maintenance. He asked “Should Maintenance be organized according to the value stream? – Why? ”

” In the value stream,” I answered, “bottlenecks are detected, critical facilities are identified from a customer perspective and process stability is visible. Priorities given to equipment are the basis for  maintenance and spare parts stocking strategies.”

That was too high-level for him.

So – I tried again. Equipment that is  the bottleneck or is in close proximity to customers is prioritized because it is important for delivery, and the bottleneck caps the production volume. If the bottleneck stops, so does the whole production system. If the last machine stops, which is important for  delivery, the safety stock increases .

Maintenance and stocks ? – The Board id not understand. ” What does Maintenance have to do with working capital ? ”

“Well, safety stocks are usually based on the worst-case  interruption time for repairs and mostly with people-related impact to it. ” In this case, it was three weeks.

It is usually two to three weeks – no one knows why.

“Can the maintenance strategy reduce working capital? ”

“Sure,” I answered. ” By prioritizing the facilities you identify the ones that are important for delivery . There you focus your maintenance activities and develop your spare part strategy. This is the only place where it is important whether this system fails. Failure analysis identifies the components that may be responsible. Then individual maintenance strategies must be developed for these components .

This starts with wear-dependent important components that are not predictable with sensor monitoring, and goes as far as the maintenance strategy of  “creating redundancy.”  The aim is to increase the process stability and to allow no loss. This reduces the need for safety stock . From that we get a feel for what would be the biggest shutdown and can estimate this time .

The next step is to optimize the maintenance time, ie to reduce the repair times to a minimum . If it is possible to organize the maintenance response to a quasi Formula 1 – standard, and you also develop a maintenance strategy adapted to it , you can make the maintenance times as short as possible. The safety stocks can then be lowered furthe . Gut feel no longer prevails. Instead, you have clear maintenance strategies based on numbers , facts, and figures. ”

” But isn’t that more effort? ”

“Perhaps on the facilities with high priorities. But why do you inspect machines that you take out of production for entire shifts? You have many working only 2 shifts. If a machine fails, it can be replaced by others. And why are you dedicating one person to your new conveyor system , which is certainly not a bottleneck?  Why do you thoroughly inspect your presses and have not considered how the failure of one could be compensated by the use of another. On such equipment “farms,” you do not need preventive maintenance in the classical sense, only a maintenance strategy that is appropriate for this case. ”

It is important to deliver and therefore you need a stable process. For this, you should evaluate the maintenance person, and not by cost. With a Lean Maintenance approach you will go from  failure-driven maintenance to  largely planned and predictable maintenance, requiring  less effort, providing higher process stability and reducing  costs for emergency response .

The result: we have reduced the worst-case repair time from 2.5 days to 8 hours, and safety stocks to two to three days, while reducing the costs of  external maintenance services by 80%.

The necessary investments in the sensors, redundancy or spare parts have been more than covered by the reduction in working capital. The annual reductions amount to a low seven-figure sum . The greatest gain was that the production and the maintenance staff are now working towards a common goal and are understood as a team . It culminated in this statement of the initially reluctant maintenance manager : “We want to be measured by the manufacturing productivity and working capital. “

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

What I read in Wiegand’s words is the focus of improvement in Maintenance should not be on structures and tools but on purpose. We maintain production facilities not to comply with a mandate or fulfill formal requirements but because it allows us to deliver goods to customers without large safety stocks. You might add that, if your products are custom, or even if you just have high variety, there is no way you can hold stocks large enough to deliver promptly.

In most companies, “Lean Maintenance” is taken to mean TPM and, within TPM, the only component that is implemented in the most basic, autonomous maintenance.  The headings for the higher levels of TPM include equipment improvementquality maintenance, and maintenance prevention but, even in Japan, you often hear managers say “We looked into implementing these, but decided they were not worth the cost.”

When you stick with autonomous maintenance, you have an approach to how the work is done but not what it is. This is a whole other topic. Wiegand states as the goal of maintenance to make interruptions of service less frequent and shorter. This is exactly what United Airlines focused on in the late 1960s when the Boeing 747 was introduced, and they called in “Reliability-Centered Maintenance” (RCM).

As part of this effort, they discovered that the “bathtub curve” of failure rates — that staple of reliability textbooks — only applies to about 4% of the aircraft components. In particular, many exhibited no tendency to fail more when aging, which made policies of periodic replacement pointless. They also developed the technique of Failure-Mode-Effect-Analysis (FMEA), on the basis of which they set policies for systematic replacement and spare parts stocks, and selected some items for targeted redundancies.

RCM was later adopted in nuclear power and process industries, and some RCM thinking has found its way into machine-shops, for example in the form of redundant tools in machining center pockets.

The criticism of RCM that I have heard is that it is a workaround to the limitations of the equipment rather than an improvement of it. It is better to have a cutting tool that lasts twice as long than to put a redundant tool on standby in the machine but then, you have to find such a tool.

Wiegand also seems to think that failures are not a problem when you have multiple, interchangeable machines with overcapacity. Technically, that’s unquestionable, but it is another story from the human point of view. It won’t be a problem next week, but what happens over time when overcapacity in an area allows you to have 25% of your equipment down? Your performance will eventually settle at a point where you actually have one machine in four down at any time. Why bother keeping all of them up all the time when they are not needed? Settling for this low availability, however, turns this process into a bottleneck.

Point Kaizen in Offices – A Disaster | Wiegand’s Watch

Bodo WiegandThis is a translation of the bulk of Bodo Wiegand’s latest newsletter, about Lean in Germany, followed by my comments:

“I ‘m really a patient man , but what I experienced this week is…

Simply unbelievable.

As I was told quite proudly by a manager that they had introduced Lean Administration , but stalled, and he asked me, as a specialist in these matters, how to change the mindsets of employees. To my question, “What have you done so far ,” the proud answer came like a pistol shot: “5S in the office – the whole program. Offices and desks cleared and in tidy rows,  refrigerators, coffee makers , printers and flowers removed , clean desk introduced, etc.”

Then I asked him how he would have introduced Lean in production. ” Since we have identified the work areasand then implemented ​​5S.”

“Oh, you have not unlocked the employees’ lockers,  taken away their photos, or instructed the staff instructed on how they should hang their pants and where to store their purses ? ”

“No, of course not ,” was his indignant reply.

” Oh, and why do you do this with the office staff?”

“You mean …”

“Yes , I mean … ” He understood.

Have others out there also understood?

Ask for your money back from any consultant who has pushed you to such actions. These so-called Lean consultants have no idea of Lean but have sure created an image of it : they have durably changed the employees’ mindset , but certainly not in the direction they wanted. Now  they think

Lean is crap. 

and not

Lean helps us – Lean saves my time – Lean is good.

 

With the Managing Director and his colleagues — whom he called then — we have then discussed how to “recover the cow from ice” and generate a positive feeling .

What made sense was to use the successful concept from interactive, multimedia learning:

  • Simultaneous learning
  • Simultaneous action

We begin with the introduction of e -mail etiquette and the meeting culture. In parallel, we analyse the information structure and meeting structure.

At the same time , we improve the social areas, buy large refrigerators with compartments for each employee and install good coffee machine. In addition, we place remote printer  where it makes sense . All this just to improve the mood.

In parallel, 1 employee for every15 was selected for training in a four-week program as a Lean Office Manager. Anyone who wants to can complete the course  for Lean Assistant Administrator.

All this just to improve the mood and get a chance to think again about Lean in the sense of “Lean is indeed quite good , Lean can save me time , Lean relieved me.”

Because Point Kaizen in the office areas consists of the following elements:

  • 5S in the social areas.
  • Introduction of e-mail etiquette.
  • Improvement of the meeting culture.
  • Standardization of the filing system.

These elements , implemented, bring perceptible relief – an average of 1 to 2 hours per day. This makes the employee associate Lean with relief and nurtures a positive attitude towards Lean management and  the important further steps in process optimization.

Introducing Lean in office areas has very little to do with tools and methods, but very much with changing the mindsets of employees. Changes on desks in the employees’ private areas will come as a consequence of the change in mindsets — it can never be forced from the outside.

Maybe we will achieve even this turnaround. What gives me hope is the spirit of the leadership that immediately got down to brass tacks  and has a date for the leadership workshop and agreed on further actions.

We whall see. I will keep you posted.”

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

I would agree with Wiegand on the folly of starting with 5S, whether on the production floor or in the office. In 2014, whether office work is the routine processing of expense reports or aircraft design, it is not primarily done on paper but on screens with software, and the relevance of neat desks is dubious at best.

Tidying up and organizing what Wiegand calls the “social areas” — by which I assume he means the places where employees take breaks — can be good for morale but will not otherwise directly  improve performance.

E-mail etiquette can make a difference, but focusing exclusively on email obscures the need for more sophisticated means of electronic communications, to support, for example, collaborative work in a project team, with revision management on its output.

The part on standardizing filing systems, in a German context, strikes me as scary. From my experience with German offices, standardization for the filing of paper documents is probably what they least lack. With electronic documents, standardization all too often takes the form of carrying over “smart” numbering systems that, while helpful with paper, are cumbersome and counterproductive in databases.

Generally, I think there is too much variety in office work for there to be much value in a generic, one-size-fits-all concept of a “Lean office.”

Shortage of skills, not yet – but very soon – a wake up call (part 2) | Wiegand’s Watch

This is a translation of the bulk of Bodo Wiegand’s latest newsletter, about Lean in Germany, followed by my comments:

“In Part 1, we discussed the possibility of becoming more effective in your own work environment by stemming the flood of email and reducing the extent of meetings. In Part 2 , we want to focus on how you can optimize cooperation between employees and departments.

In production, there are precise procedures and instructions , on how a product is to be made. There, the processes are stable , documented and visual. We have not considered this to be necessary in support departments. Everyone works as he sees fit , then delivers when he is ready and at the quality he is capable of.

Sorry – in administration, we produce nothing .

We don’t! Or do we?

In any case, work is not done according to a plan or delivered just in time at a precisely defined quality. Don’t we need to? We do! We need to gradually start to handle administrative processes like production processes – because we need more effectiveness and efficiency on our office floors to reduce skill shortages and remain competitive .

It is not about takt in administration but about flow and on-time delivery. Run time, interfaces, and flexibility are the principles. I can already hear the staff complain in Development or in Construction: “For us no project is like any other – so you can’t define processes , let alone standardize. And yet 7o% to 80 % of the activities are routine and repetitive, consisting of foolishly long meetings and secretarial or travel agency work that is unrelated to project content.

Defining and standardizing the processes of development and construction saves employees valuable time , while proceeding with fixed rules and checkpoints prevents errors or detects them faster, improves the quality and timeliness of the work, and avoids interface problems, for example in making prototypes or starting up manufacturing.

I can already hear the complaints of managers in Human Resources ,  Information Technology, or Accounting : “We produce nothing – we can’t optimize anything.” The most beautiful expression I frequently hear from this faction is “Mr. Wiegand, without us, nothing runs here .” And then when I ask , what products do you make or what services do you render ? Then I see usually only blank stares.

Hello! Is hiring, challenging, and coaching employees not a service? Are indicators that show facts, or figures that support decisions not defined products? Or implementing software , delivering training, and other support functions? Of course, these are products and services.  Can we describe these products, deliver them more efficiently, standardize them, define quality requirements, and visualize their processes?

Yes, we can !

So what is the difference between the production of goods and the products in the so-called indirect areas?

None – except for the fact that the first are visible, tangible, and palpable, while the product of Administration is information – to interpret,  invisible and intangible. If it is possible, therefore, to make the information visible and to define it , then you can treat it like a product and make the processes more effective and efficient. And why do we not  do it?

We had the same problem in production 20 to 30 years ago. Processes were previously under the responsibility of  master craftsmen who delivered as they saw fit. We had to define the processes, specify interfaces, and establish quality, formulate work orders and convert from the functional organization of workshops and production areas to an organization along manufacturing processes.

I remember vividly how the Craftsmen, Workshop Supervisors , and Production Area Managers fought and defended their kingdoms. It was a long, hard struggle. Today, however,  less than 10% of companies are still aligned functionally in production. They all fought to the end, against better judgment, against the greater economic performance, and for their kingdoms.

This is what we face today every day on our office floors. The same arguments are repeated. As an acccountant said, “If we move to a process-oriented organization, the specific know-how goes down the drain.” By the way – the last major innovation in accounting — breakeven analysis —  is more than half a century old. So what kind of know-how must be centrally held, promoted, and protected ?

Do not get me wrong — we need accounting to measure our success , but not in an ivory tower, but on the spot, so you know what you need to measure and therefore can support the decision makers , thus giving guidelines to your trade (see also my article in the Book: The accountant as in-house consultant).

So we anchor the controls in the process , where  needed , and not in a functional department. If we want to raise the potential in the indirect areas , we must not look at the individual functions , but at processes across functions and optimize the functions themselves. Now you know now why it is so hard to find support for Lean Administration. But, as 12 years of Lean Administration consulting have shown , it pays. Here are a few examples :

  • Today, 900 employees in Development and Administration are doing work that used to require 1,300.
  • Capital goods are shipped six months earlier.
  • A service center saves €17M.
  • A pharmaceutical company handle 20% in sales without adding employees.
  • A government office reduced processing time from three weeks to two days .

Now how is this done? It starts with process mapping, defining products , analyzing the task structure and the job  structure,  and then optimizing the value streams . Quite simple – or not?

Unfortunately,  not quite that simple. You can make many mistakes. I have seen many process maps. Some were created from an IT perspective, others from the organization’s point of view — but why not from a customer perspective?

Others avoid analyzing the structure of the activity usually with the argument “Not acceptable to the Works Council.”

What a joke!

We have been implementing Lean administration in companies for 12 years and have never had problems with the Works Councils due to an activity structure analysis. Mostly we were rather supported with the motto: “Finally in this area something is happening.”

Often the products are not defined from a customer perspective. The optimized value streams are contradictory and  watered down by compromise at the interfaces and turned into overcomplex processes.

Why ?

Out of consideration to individuals and functions. Lean Administration projects rarely succeed from the inside out , but require external coaches to bring to light self-interests and put the process in the foreground.

You should however not be deterred by these difficulties . Especially with projects in Administration, the five success factors I so often stress  are:

  • Planning
  • Leadership commitment
  • Holistic approach
  • Resolute implementation /change in mindset
  • Measurement

The potential is large and success easy to achieve. You and your colleagues just have to really want it and, of course, start properly.

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

As many discussions of the “Lean office” do, Wiegand’s lumps together all activities other than production. Much of his letter is devoted to the standardization of office work, which he presents as essential to avoiding a skill shortage by increasing productivity. While a case can be made for the value of following documented procedures in transaction processing  like rental car issue and return, it is far-fetched for creative knowledge work like R&D.

In product development, it helps to have some discipline in managing the flow of projects through phases, with appropriate validation at various checkpoints, but there is little evidence that it is essential. The history of product development is replete with cases where all the procedures were in place but the products failed, and, on the contrary, of cases of product developers who broke the rules and succeeded.

Wiegand describes the transition from craft control to controlled, documented processes in production as a battle fought won in the past 20 to 30 years. I view it instead as a struggle that started with the industrial revolution about 1750 and is still going on, with the Lean approach to it being only the last of a long list. And it does not involve standardizing everything. If you have machines with controls that are visually obvious and mistake-proof, you don’t need instructions.

Another theme of Wiegand’s letter is the change from organization by function, where employees are in departments focused on one operation, to organization by process, where they are in teams in charge of all the operations needed to generate a finished output. It is like the change from a machining job-shop with departments for turning, milling, heat treatment, grinding, etc. to a flow shop with lines or cells that machine blanks from start to finish.

Wiegand asserts that only 10% of companies still have functional organizations in production. It is a number I have a hard time believing. I don’t believe it’s true even in Japan. In fact, the functional, or job-shop, organization is not wrong for everything. Once you have done your Runner/Repeater/Stranger analysis, it is actually what you need for Strangers. And it is not always wrong in office work either. Product development at Toyota, for example, is done by functional departments.

I am also puzzled by his description of “break-even analysis” as the last great innovation in accounting. It does not strike me as particularly advanced. What about discounted cash flows, internal rates of return, activity-based costing, and other concepts that shine a light on different aspects of operations than just break-even points?

One last comment is that Wiegand mentions “optimization” six times and “improvement” never. One of my pet peeves is that, in Lean, you always improve but never optimize, because it is, by definition, the end of improvement. I have been assured both in Germany and France, that they mean “improvement” when they say “optimization,” which begs the question of what they use when they actually mean “optimization.”

Shortage of skills, not yet – but very soon – a wake up call (part 1) | Wiegand’s Watch

This is a translation of the bulk of Bodo Wiegand’s latest newsletter, followed by my comments:

“As long as our support professionals and staff spend less than 50% of their time on their core activities, we have no shortage of skilled workers . But it’s coming — mercilessly, and we are not doing anything about it!

Whenever I ‘m in a company and we discuss about efficiency in the indirect area , the first reaction is disbelief and astonishment, with statements like “Mr. Wiegand, certainly not with us.” When, in the 10/2007 issue of Focus, I wrote “the labor productivity in administration is about 50%” [of what it should be], no one wanted to believe it , or admit it … and it was and is dismissed by most with a ” not with us.”

In fact is it is below 50 % , today as well as yesterday, and if we do not start worrying about it soon and finally wake up from our slumber , we will run into real problems that will jeopardize the existence of our German business model.

Now my dear  “not with us” unbelievers and  friends – wake up : The facts are coming. According to a study by the AKAD University in Leipzig, each week, office workers spend a whole day in meetings and one whole day processing email. You don’t think so? The proof: Based on a Varonis survey from 2012:

  • 4.8% receive 300-500 emails a day ,
  • 17.6 %,  100-300 emails a day ,
  • 44.8 %,  50-100 emails a day and
  • 32.8 %,  1-50 emails a day .

According to a survey conducted by Mimecast and Microsoft Exchange from 2012, from the recipients’ perspective, 61 % of the emails are unnecessary, 25 % are at least useful, and only 14% are “really important.”
Once again in plain text: Nearly 70 % of employees working in offices receive more than 50 messages/day.

Assume only 50 emails/day. The processing time per email is about 1-2 minutes, Here is some additional information for the smart alecks who think they only 10 seconds per email: they are among  the 70 % who get more than 50 emails/day and don’t read them. The additional mental setup time in normal office activity for one mail is 64 seconds, as calculated by Loughborough University psychologist Thomas Jackson.

It follows that,  in the best case , the processing of the assumed 50 mails / day takes at least 2 hours, which works out to 10 hours a week or 55 working days/year. It devours 1 day per week (see also the study by Leipzig’s AKAD University) .

Considering that the processing of 61 % of the mail is a waste of time . This corresponds to 6 hours a week or 38 days per year or 17 % more time for the employee.

Studies have shown that when engineers and developers work constructively or on complex problems , the mental setup time is up to 12 minutes. This group of people needs 250 minutes/day for just 25 mails/day and 10 minutes of mental setup times. It is already makes 50 % of their time. With an average salary of €100,000/year,  makes € 50,000/employee for email processing !

So, if we eliminate for this group the 61% of unnecessarily emails , they would receive only 10 mails/day and would thus have 120 minutes more time for their actual work. Then we focus on processing the email in the morning and afternoon , and save another 100 minutes.

Now, how doe we fight this email flood?

  1. Introduce email etiquette to reduce the number of messages and raise their quality .
  2. Analyze the structure of the information enhance the quality of information and communication , and stop the sending of unnecessary emails.

Moreover, we should take heed of a more serious study and begin to protect our employees . 63.6 % of all managers believe that is expected of them that they should be accessible in their free time. An survey of German executives in 2013 asked what measures were taken to put limits on their accessibility?

81 % of the executives responded : “None.”

Which is at least one reason for the rise in the burn-out syndrome. If 81 % of the companies do not take this problem seriously , it’s actually only a matter of time before the executives burn out.

It is the duty of the companies to care about this.

Next, let us discuss meetings. How often has each of you experienced meetings

  • That have no agenda ,
  • Where there no clear tasks have been defined,
  • Where there is no clear outcome or agreement on actions and responsibilities,
  • Without any follow-up on actions from the last meeting,
  • Where the allotted  time was exceeded,
  • That did not start on time,
  • Where someone came too late ,
  • In which one or more persons ( Mr. or Mrs. Important) left to make a call ,
  • Where computers with emails were answered during the meeting ,
  • Where there was little conversation,
  • Where documents were issued at the meeting for “fast” decisions,
  • Where all agreed at the meeting on a decision and afterwards said “Maybe,”
  • Where everything was discussed except the real issues ,

All waste – pure waste .

What can you do so in order to curb the meeting madness and to cut one day meeting per week to four hours ? Change the meeting culture , and take actions to reduce the number of meetings and radically shorten them, such as:

  • Put out a guide for improving a culture of dialogue .
  • Analyze the structure of discussions to establish which types of meetings are needed. For example, keep routine meetings to up to 30 minutes, standing in front of a whiteboard, and discuss only anomalies. Time savings immediately 50 % guaranteed!

Summing up the potential for meetings and email processing together , can get a relief of more than 15 to 20 % of the time for each .

Hello my dear ” Not with us” friends, if you stick your head quietly in the sand, you do not have to even deal with these issues.

A manager of a large automotive supplier once said to me : ” Mr. Wiegand, in production, we are chasing cents and leaving euro notes on the floor in administration. “So what in the world is holding back our managers from raising their efficiency and thus to relieving much-needed management resources from this senseless workload. They just look and pointlessly waste our most important resouce : our employees , our specialists and managers , our engineers and developers.

Relieve this group from distractions like secretarial work , travel planning and other non-core activities , and you generate further potential , and that without even tackling interface problems , optimizing the processes or breaking down silos.

For this you do not need a consultant , you only need to invest in training your employees.

[…]

In my 15 years of experience with administrative Lean projects, I can see that there a total of at least 20 to 30 % increase in efficiency is  possible.

In Part 2 of this topic , we deal with the other 15 to 20% of improvement and how to realize them.”

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

Bodo Wiegand paints the abuse of email and poor meeting organization as an existential threat to the German business model. According to him, German managers and professionals are only operating at 50% of their capacity because of the time they spend processing unnecessary emails and sitting through meetings that belie the worldwide perception of German promptness and rigor. In fact, as much as I enjoy myth busting, from my personal experience of meetings in Germany, I would not put this issue high on the list of needed improvements. I have seen worse elsewhere.

As for email, even though Wiegand only proposes to improve its use, he seems to be attacking the medium, which he used himself to send out his newsletter. And the countermeasures he proposes address, at best, internal email abuse. If all employees of a company stopped sending each other unnecessary emails, it wouldn’t stem the flow from outside. You can filter it with firewalls but, if you do it too aggressively, you can interfere with necessary communications.

Let’s face it: email is the greatest medium ever invented for one-to-one or one-to-many informal communication in writing. It is informal in the sense that, unlike a form with fields and check boxes, it imposes no structure on the content. It replaces the business letter, but not the purchase order.

It is not perfect. Email over the internet has proven reliable, but it offers no guarantee of delivery, and the fact that you sent a message is no legal proof that any other party received it. And the informality of the medium has led many to let loose and write things that they came to regret when they discovered that email communication is not as private as they assumed it to be, and that completely deleting an email is next to impossible. In essence, all the emails you send become part of your permanent record.

Technically, email does not work well for the many-to-many communication required, for example, in a project team. The members of a team need to post information in one place for the team, and nothing but the team, with tools to collaboratively edit it. This is not accomplished by sending messages to each other, that are stored redundantly in each recipient’s mailbox.

This being said, email today is the primary way business is done, and there is nothing wrong, per se, in having office professionals spend time processing emails. It is only wrong if they do too much of it, but there is no universal rule on the amount they need to do their jobs; it depends on what their jobs are. It won’t be the same in marketing and in product development.

I agree with Wiegand on the need for training in the effective use of email, but management should also know, for example, that it is a bad idea to standardize email addresses. If you give all employees addresses like “joe.blow@company.com,” you make them easy to spam.

If I were to point out waste in German office organization, I would mention the following:

  1. Nomenclature. I have seen “smart” numbering systems used not only for manufacturing parts but for projects and even employee IDs. In the age of databases, it is archaic and counterproductive. It makes employees take longer to fill out forms in computer transactions, and it makes reports more difficult to understand. I have never met anyone in Germany who was even aware that it is a problem.
  2. German office with Leitz bindersOversorting. Not every paper document needs to be filed under the proper tab, in chronological order, in a two-ring binder. This should only apply to documents that are frequently retrieved. But the neat rows of Leitz binders on the shelves of German offices are a source of pride…

I also find Wiegand’s advocacy of relying on secretaries for tasks like travel planning odd, considering that explaining your travel needs to another person takes longer than booking on-line directly. It didn’t use to be that way, but it is that way now. Human intermediaries in travel booking still have a role for groups but, for individuals, they are as extinct as typists. “Admin” isn’t just a fancy title for a secretary; admins are far fewer than secretaries used to be, and do different work, such as screening calls and maintaining calendars for executives.