• Stephanie Hill

Frequency of Work Units - Office Improvements

Updated: Jan 16

From the June post, we learned that most office processes move “widgets” through less frequently and/or with longer cycle times than most manufacturing processes.

This blog will address the “Frequency of Work Units” factor that impacts results when doing continuous improvement (CI) in an office vs. manufacturing environment. I encourage you to read about the other two factors, “Association to Work” and “Significance of Waste,” on our blog page,

“Frequency of Work” impacts CI efforts in three major ways:

1. Difficulty in gathering baseline data

2. Inability to go to the gemba, the real place of work, to see how value is added

3. Challenge in sustaining momentum during implementation

Let’s tackle each impact, one at a time.

Gathering Data

Doing a CI effort that involves significant resource time is always a matter of prioritization. A key input to prioritizing is data, which tells us how significant an issue is, and whether it is more or less critical than other issues.

In an office environment, there can be lots of data. Yet it is rarely what is needed to tell the story of the baseline situation. Collecting the right information can take a long period of time if the process does not happen often. A mentor once told me, “Don’t wait for data to make things better for your employees or customers.” When anecdotal evidence tells you there is significant pain in the process, start working on it.

That said, it is important to eventually collect the data the team needs.

  • It provides insight into the problem being solved.

  • It ensures the changes made actually result in an improvement. (If the data tells you otherwise, you can rapidly correct the approach and start again.)

  • It helps ensure buy-in for future CI efforts.

Since most CI events and projects take weeks to plan (drafting the charter, understanding the high-level process and players, scheduling the team, etc.), begin developing a data collection plan with business owners and get them working on it right away. The team should also have a plan for how to monitor the data before, during, and after the effort.

Going to the Gemba (Or, Place of Work Where Value is Created)

Since it is not easy to predict how often work will be done in an office setting, and since it is hard to make that work visible (other than mapping), going to the gemba can be a challenge. That is even more true in a virtual workplace setting.

The team has multiple options to overcome this challenge:

  • As prework, ask team members to record themselves on video doing the activities.

  • As prework, have team members notify the facilitator or leader when they are preparing to do the specific work to observe and document each step as it happens.

  • Prior to or during the CI effort, go to another organization (or watch a video) to benchmark how that organization adds value through a similar process. Have participants compare and contrast how they do their work.

  • During the CI effort, have multiple people who do the process talk through the details of their work as the facilitator maps the steps. If only one person is available, bring in a second person later to validate the steps.

  • During the CI effort, have the team demonstrate how they do their work using a test case.

Sustaining Momentum

When a process happens less often or takes a long time, it can be easy to let other issues take focus. As a facilitator, I find two key approaches necessary:

1. Create a monitoring approach that:

a. involves the team

b. is visual

c. shows how the team is progressing on action items

d. includes data to indicate whether the situation is improving

e. has actions ready for anything that goes off track

2. Talk at least once a week, initially, and then monthly after the first month or two. (This can vary, depending on the speed of your CI effort.) In those conversations:

a. find out the status

b. review the data

c. discuss any barriers

d. gauge the team’s ongoing motivation for change

e. ask whether or not the efforts are working out the way the team had expected

*Ensure the business owner is prepared to tackle any concerns expressed during these conversations.*

Every CI effort follows some cyclic version of the Plan-Do-Check-Act model. Let the team and stakeholders know from the beginning that learning from the process and adapting does not mean failure; it is part of the design.

In the next post, we will go through ways to overcome the “Significance of Waste” factor. In the meantime, please Contact Us at to share situations in which you have overcome the “Frequency of Work Units” factor. Or let us know if you would like additional help overcoming these challenges in your organization.

#leadershipconsulting, #businesscoach, #lean, #continuousimprovement, #femaleentrepreneurs, #sixsigma, #businessgrowth, #leanoffice

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