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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Hill

Association to Work - Office vs. Manufacturing

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Before I dive too deeply into this topic, I will share that we should always take the Continuous Improvement (CI) approach of gathering Voice of the Customer (VOC) before starting any improvement. While I will be generalizing between manufacturing and office environments, each setting, culture, and individual is unique. So, I always encourage you to take the time and learn what will work best for each participant.

So, why does it matter whether we understand the differences between manufacturing and office environments? I often see Lean or CI practitioners miss out on positive results and lose buy-in from participants, because they take a drag-and-drop approach as they move from manufacturing to the office environment.

At the highest level, I have found three main differences between these settings:

1. Association to work

2. Frequency of work units

3. Significance of waste

In this four-part blog series, I will break down each category and then share strategies that work to adapt your improvement approach.

When I say, “association to work,” I am referring to how closely a person feels tied to what they do on a daily basis. In most manufacturing environments I have worked, people often switch between lines, products, and sometimes, shifts. Work set-ups change frequently, and many of those changes are experimental. The focus is mainly on how material flows through the factory. So, people may separate work improvements from their own sense of identity. (It is important to note that the association between person and process becomes more intertwined the more specialized a person becomes.)

In contrast, many office roles have an unclear separation between the individual and the work. Many have studied and practiced for years to have the position that they do. They may have developed their own processes and work based upon what they know and their experiences. Changing their work is something they often view as their own responsibility or their leader’s. So, having someone from the outside (CI leaders, peers, other leaders) questioning their work, demonstrating best practices, or providing alternate suggestions can directly impact their identity. The association between person and process is strong, so an effective CI leader will use methods that acknowledge this connection and work with it to initiate change.

In the fourth blog of this series, I will share methods to address the “association to work” factor. In the meantime, please Contact Us at to share your story. Or let us know if you would like additional help overcoming these challenges in your organization.

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