Knowledge Base

Knowledge Base

What exactly is Lean? | Part 1 of 3

Sep 19, 2018, 12:38 PM
Over 10 years ago, we realized at Stoner that we were growing rapidly and needed to make changes to stay competitive. That's when we decided to embark on a Lean journey. Little improvements over time add up to big changes. In this article we explain some of the key terms and concepts in Lean manufacturing and relate it to the regular office and computer environments.

By: Lisa Tran, Information Technology, Stoner Inc.

Lean is used in manufacturing facilities every day, but what does it mean in the office and what are the benefits of Lean thinking?  This multi-part article explains processes and steps to make your company more efficient to save resources and time. We are by no means Lean experts, but we are a working, thriving Lean system and want to share our observations to help you understand a little bit more about Lean practices and maybe inspire you to start your own Lean journey.

Why Stoner Started on the Lean Journey
Over 10 years ago, we realized at Stoner that we were growing rapidly and needed to make changes to stay competitive.  When you do things the same way all the time you often don’t notice inefficiencies.  It is easy to just say, “That’s the way this process is done” and not look for different and better ways.  However, if you step back and take a minute to evaluate things from a different perspective, it can be energizing and have a positive effect in the work place.

Our company already had a philosophy for continuous improvement, but we needed a better way to evaluate and measure what we were doing.  We took the time to benchmark other world class manufacturers and visit other companies implementing Lean practices.  We decided this was a path we wanted to follow.  Lean thinking is a way of life and a continuous process.  Every step makes you and your company more efficient and effective.  When we first started Lean, we had a lot to learn and we took small steps at a time.  Little improvements over time add up to big changes.
In this article I will explain some of the key terms and concepts in Lean manufacturing but relate it to the regular office and computer environments.  I will give some examples of Lean principles as they apply to an office and introduce a different way of thinking about your workplace.

Process Improvement Goals
When thinking about either producing a product or processing the work on your desk, there are three goals for process improvement:

1.    FASTER – process Speed
2.    BETTER – improve Quality
3.    CHEAPER – minimize Waste

While you might like to improve all these simultaneously, you must maintain a balance.  You can’t produce things so fast that the quality suffers, nor should you use cheaper ingredients or cut corners to save money if it impacts Quality.  In fact, sometimes, if you go too fast and make mistakes, you have to rework, which takes longer than if you had just gone a little slower.  So, when making process changes, your goal is to affect all the things listed above but you must take the entire system and its effects into consideration and not just make changes in isolation.  Lean thinking helps provide tools to start making these kinds of changes.  Let’s introduce you to some of these tools.

5S and 5S+1
Usually Lean practices start by implementing a principal that is called 5S.  At Stoner, we believe Safety is part of the 5S process, so we added a sixth S for Safety and we call our process

5S+1. I have listed the 5S’s (plus 1!) here:
1.    Sort
2.    Set in Order
3.    Shine
4.    Standardize
5.    Sustain
6.    Safety

Sorting is just what it sounds like, sorting through things and eliminating clutter.  With less clutter, things are more obvious and what you need is readily available.  It seems simple, but it can make a big impact on efficiency.  

Set in Order
Set in Order is all about organizing and labeling to make things obvious.  Usually it incorporates the use of colors.  In a manufacturing setting, this is often seen in the use of shadow boards.  Tools in the Sort step are looked through, broken ones thrown away, and then tools are grouped together.  The outline of the tool is created on a board with specific colors and these same colors are used to tag the actual tool. This way, if a tool is found lying around, a person will know where it goes by the color on the tool and by the outline of the tool on the board.  Figure 1 shows you a shadow board with the colors red and black.
Figure 1: Shadow board with tools

You can literally do the same thing in the office.  In Figure 2 we labeled the stapler next to a common printer and we also drew an outline showing where the stapler should be.  Now people know exactly where the stapler goes.
Office Supplies
Figure 2: Shadow board of office supplies

Not all sorting, however, needs to be physical.  Often times digital sorting of files, servers, drives and personal documents can help streamline efficiency. When was the last time you cleaned your digital office?

Shine simply means clean everything. In the manufacturing world, if you keep equipment and the surrounding area clean, it is easier to see if there are leaks or problems.  Things also run more efficiently when it is clean and free from clutter.  In the digital world, cleaning encompasses archiving old data and finding duplicate customer records and other data anomalies.  The cleaner your data environment, the more efficiently the computer systems will run.  Whether data archiving or cleaning out your email inbox, all these things help eliminate clutter and make items that need attention stand out more.


In Manufacturing, the more standardized your systems, the less configuration and change you will need when switching from one product or process to another.  Product will be made with the same consistency and quality.  In the digital world, you want your processes to also be standardized.  In our call center, we want all customers to experience the same exceptional service each and every time.


This part of 5S is very important.  5S and Lean practices won’t work if you only follow them sometimes or when you feel like it.  Following Lean practices is something that is a work habit.  To sustain, you must keep re-evaluating the first four steps and repeating them as necessary.  


This extra criterion was added by Stoner to our 5S process because safety is just as critical as the other steps in the 5S process.

5S+1 is the usual starting point in Lean and begins to get you and your company organized and moves you into visual thinking.  Implementing 5S+1 will help with the goals of Faster and Better.  You can locate things faster and through standardizing you make things better by eliminating inconsistencies. But 5S+1 is only the starting point. 

More to Come
There are a lot of other key elements and concepts in Lean processes and, in upcoming articles, I will discuss some more of these key ideas, how they can relate to the office and translate into savings. If you would like to be notified when the next article goes live, please click here and sign up!

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