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SME Speaks: Is Your Office as Lean as Your Production Line?

September is traditionally the time for a restart. School and continuing education classes get going with the promise of personal development and challenges for the future. It's the time to kick-start any stalled goals for the year, the time to focus on harvesting the results from the work of the previous seasons.   

This is the time to ensure that you are working on what really matters. We need to add value for our customers, be they internal or external. The lean initiatives that have become a way of life for many of us really come into play. Lean helps us focus to achieve the goals we have set, and put aside those things that do not add value to our mission. This is important on the factory floor. It's equally important in the engineering offices, sales offices, research offices, and administration offices. Many companies today do a lot to streamline the production process, but overlook the opportunities in the overhead areas. Some of these are areas of the company that surface on value stream maps as waste—the whole department! These should be the first place we look to remove unnecessary transportation, overproduction, extra inventory, waiting, defects, overprocessing, and motion. Because these areas are an expense to the company, every dollar saved here is added to the bottom line. Such savings have the same result as getting a discount on raw material, as it is an expense the customer does not want.

When I was relatively new in the manufacturing world, most computers were applied to office processes to reduce labor requirements. It was discovered that computers could improve office efficiency by about 20% at that time. It was also determined that computers could improve manufacturing efficiency by over 50%, if applied correctly. I have observed that many technologies that were invented several decades ago became economically viable due to the application of computers. Lean has been applied to the manufacturing processes with great results today, but I suspect we will find even greater results if we apply the lean principles in the office to the same degree. Do we really understand which of those charts add real value? We must ensure we know the real benefits, and are not just caught up in the features!

Implementation of lean in the office also has the important impact of getting the whole company working and thinking the same way. Having the whole team understanding and working to minimize unnecessary efforts has a major impact on morale, when everyone sees the whole company working toward the same goal at the same time. When we take time to recognize individual contributions to the team effort, the impact is even greater. People start to see greater results for their efforts, and know they are becoming more effective. We all feel better about ourselves when we know we have grown as individuals.

The healthcare industry is starting to see where the application of lean principles can result in much better services to patients, as well as reducing costs. Looking at patients coming in as inventory, and then working to reduce the inventory and keep it moving faster (lower wait times), is a major advantage to the patient, doctor, and facility. The increased capacity of the staff and facility has the same benefits as increasing the number of providers to the public. The advantages multiply themselves as we become more effective in providing only those services required, and then apply additional resources to work on problems that had previously exceeded work capacity. The work standardization alone would save a huge amount of resources. There are many specialty facilities now working to provide the best possible benefits to patients by having a limited scope, and therefore more standardized practices. If true lean practices were implemented, this same level of specialist care could be made available at much smaller facilities, just as manufacturers can economically reduce their order size to serve their customers faster and more efficiently.

I am pleased to tell you that we are using all the same lean tools at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers to provide service to you—the manufacturing practitioner—in the same way. We have regular kaizen events in all areas, and strive to understand what your real needs are so that we can add valued benefits to your supply chain. One of our five main goals to achieve SME Strategic Plan 2010 is to be lean and effective. This applies to all areas of the organization, from planning events to developing new products to improving the efficiency of the print shop and the copiers. One of the mainstays of any lean program is continuous improvement and outside suggestions. We certainly get many staff suggestions. I would also like to invite you, our members and readers, to forward any suggestions you may have to me. I can be reached at    

SME Has Extensive Lean Resources

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is your gateway for getting the knowledge you need about lean, and for connecting with other practitioners across all industries. If you've never visited before, make it a point to do so today. You are likely to be very surprised at how expansive the SME lean resources are, and how you and your company can benefit by getting involved with the Society.   

In July, Manufacturing Engineering published the "Lean Manufacturing 2007" yearbook as a special supplement. SME members received the yearbook with their recent copy of the magazine, as part of their member benefits. It includes insight on the state of lean manufacturing from an array of very knowledgeable leaders/practitioners, including Jim Womack, Jeff Liker, Jamie Flinchbaugh, Gary Conner, Jerry Bussell, Mark Graban, Lea Tonkin, Jean Cunningham, H. Thomas Johnson, and many more.

One contributor to the yearbook, Mark Graban, was excited about its publication and wrote an entry in his blog. "I can't wait to read more of it. I'm also amazed how many of the authors are pretty tight in my blog network, as authors, podcast guests, or contributors!"

Copies of the yearbook can be purchased online at        

Upcoming Lean Accounting Summit

SME and AME (the Association for Manufacturing Excellence; Arlington Heights, IL) have helped sponsor the Lean Accounting Summit since it originated in 2005. Lean practitioners reported that traditional accounting practices frequently hindered sustainable lean progress. This movement is working to better understand how and when to use accounting to help sustain improvements. The 2007 Lean Accounting Summit, will be held in Orlando, FL, on September 27–28. Enter "sme" in the promo code to receive a $100 discount.

"Follow My Lean" Candidate

In the March issue of Manufacturing Engineering, SME announced its new "Follow My Lean" promotion, where a certification candidate tracks his path toward a lean credential. The featured candidate, Daniel Strawser, continuous improvement coordinator for O'Flex Group Inc., began tracking his progress in December 2006. In his July 2007 entry, Strawser was breathing a sigh of relief after he completed and submitted his portfolio. He's anxiously awaiting word from SME on whether he has achieved the sought-after Bronze-level certification.

You can read more about Strawser's lean certification journey at Information on SME's Lean Certification can be found at    

SME's Product & Process Design and Management Community

This community discusses, investigates, and advances ideas related to the design and management of products and processes, as well as lean manufacturing concepts.  

A large component of the PPDM Community is its leanrelated resources. Within the PPDM's Lean Manufacturing Enterprise Technical Group, there are five subgroups that focus on:

  • Human Side of Lean
  • Lean Curriculum and Certification
  • Lean Maintenance Reliability
  • Lean to Green Sustainability
  • Lean Tool and Die

These active tech groups have monthly conference calls where they discuss a variety of topics, often with notable guest speakers. To learn more about these and other tech groups within the Product & Process Design and Management Community, visit

In early July, SME, AME, and the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing conferred upon Jeff Lytle, LEAN SixSigma Master BlackBelt, OMNOVA Solutions, Inc., the first ever Lean Gold Certification—the highest level of Lean Certification achievement. Facilitated by SME, AME, and the Shingo Prize, and developed by industry, the Lean Certification program is the first professional credential, independent of curriculum, in industry. Its intent is to bring alignment and consistency to the assessment of knowledge, skills, and abilities of lean practitioners.  

Lean Directions e-Newsletter

Lean Directions, a monthly e-newsletter, often focuses on the success many companies are achieving by implementing lean into the workplace. For instance, a June 2007 article, "Lean From the Top," features a veteran practitioner of lean, Esterline (Bellevue, WA), which began its lean journey in the 1990s. Since its transformation into a more focused firm, it has made more than 30 acquisitions that are aligned with the company's market segments and lean way of life.  

When Esterline began practicing lean, management chose velocity—the speed at which an order moves through the enterprise— as its primary lean metric to help move lean beyond the shop floor. Earlier this year, Esterline sought a method to evaluate both its internal lean practitioners and the various approaches taken by its operating units. According to Tom Heine, Esterline's vice president of leadership and organization development, Esterline found what it was looking for in the SME Certification methodology. The company decided to "embrace" SME's Lean Certification by encouraging all operating units to ensure their senior staff members had the knowledge necessary to pass the Lean Certification exam. Moreover, says Heine, it encourages lean practitioners to be certified to at least the Bronze level.

Realizing that this process had to start at the top, the Esterline corporate executive officers voluntarily signed up and began studying in late March 2007. By the first week of May, all had taken the exam and passed on the first attempt. The next steps for Esterline include encouraging all operating-unit senior staff to take the Lean Certification exam. Concurrently, a cadre of lean practitioners will work as a cohort group in seeking certification at the Bronze level. Heine says the lean practitioner group will initially consist of approximately 10 full-time lean practitioners, with most having titles of lean manager or lean practitioner.

To read the full article, visit and click on the "past articles" link. For information on SME Certification, visit


First-Ever Lean Gold Certification

The Lean Certification program is comprised of three distinct, yet equally important levels: Bronze, which is focused on tactical lean or lean in a local environment; Silver, which is focused on integrative or value stream lean; and Gold, which is focused on strategic or enterprise transformational lean. To achieve his Gold Certification, Lytle successfully completed the requirements for all three levels of certification, which included a comprehensive knowledge examination and peer-reviewed portfolio for each level and, at the Gold level, an in-person panel interview.

Since January 2007, SME has received applications from more than 1000 Lean Certification candidates. Additionally, the exam for the Bronze-level certification is being utilized by the 360vu Foundation and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership network as an outcome assessment for their Lean Enterprise Certificate Program.


This article was first published in the September 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 9/1/2007

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