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.”