Using Telework to Lean Out the Enterprise

leanA few decades ago, Toyota Production System gained attention for its manufacturing processes.  The methodology and collection of tools used by Toyota engineers was later coined “lean” and popularized in the book The Machine That Changed the World.  (Coincidentally, lean started to become popular during the era when the process improvement methodology Six Sigma was taking off, and today the methodologies are combined, termed Lean Six Sigma, in many organizations).

One of the central themes of lean is to reduce waste.  Waste leads to higher internal costs, lowers profits, and/or decreases customer satisfaction.  Waste can be classified into 7 categories:

  1. Transportation.  Unnecessary movement of goods, people, materials, or documents.
  2. Inventory.  Excess inventories don’t generate revenue (because the goods aren’t sold) and lead to higher costs (to hold and maintain them).  This led to the concept of “Just-in-Time” – no inventories, providing a product or service exactly when the customer requests it.
  3. Motion.  Excess motion or unnecessary movement in the production process.
  4. Waiting for the next process step.  Wait time can make up 90% of the overall process cycle time.
  5. Over-processing.  Doing more work on a product or transaction than is absolutely necessary.
  6. Over-production: Producing more than what is necessary.
  7. Defects.  Rework that is done to fix something that should have been done correctly the first time.

What does waste have to do with telework?  A lot.  In many organizations, telework is still seen as an employee privileged or perk.  As I have argued in the past, organizations need to think more strategically about how to leverage telework to achieve competitive advantage.   Telework has the potential to reduce waste and lean out the enterprise.

For example, telework can greatly reduce transportation for employees.  Internal travel can be reduced by leveraging video conferencing or desktop sharing applications.  Traveling to client or customer locations can be reduced by hiring talent near these locations versus hiring at corporate headquarters or company hubs and sending employees to the customer.

Excess motion can also be reduced.  In the manufacturing world, a “spaghetti diagram” can be created that traces the paths employees take around the plant to do their job.  The same concept applies to the typical office building.  How much do employees move around to meet with people or use office equipment?  Reducing office space, perhaps moving to an open floor plan or hoteling environment, can allow employees to work more closely with others they may need on temporary basis  or allowing employees to work from home can eliminate most motion altogether and make employees more productive.

If you think about it, you may come up with additional ideas of how telework makes the organization more efficient, reduces costs, reduces waste, and increases customer satisfaction.   This can help you build the business case for telework if you are just starting out, or it can help maximize the potential of the virtual workplace if telework already exists in your organization.

Good luck,

Jason

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