Lean in the office

Lean in the office is sometimes seen as a different kind of lean. While it does have some differences from lean in a production environment, the core principles behind it remain the same. To give you an idea of how i look at this, you can find my adaptations on TIMWOODS in the office environment below.


The 8 lean wastes are well known. You need to look at them a bit differently in the office environment. 

TIMWOODS also known as down time

The 8 wastes (TIMWOODS)

The 8 wastes tend to be hidden in an office environment because there are no physical products being made:

  • Motion: Having to click a lot in a system to get the work done, having to look in diffrent digital archives or having to use a lot of different tools or worksheets to get the work done.
  • Transport: Is becoming harder to spot, because of increasing digitalization. Sometimes it is just not there or it may be so small as to be insignificant. If it is there it tends to revolve around printing, sending physical mail, getting legal documents signed or people moving dossiers from one department to the next.
  • Inventory: In the office environment this can have a lot of different names. But it is mostly about a backlog in requests, office supply stock, work in progress, work on hold or work in stock. People tend to forget that these types of inventory also come with costs, because you do not physically see the inventory. But you need a system to keep track of the backlog, you need time to register the right status in the system and you need to train people in doing the registration well. Inventory in office environment can lead to two people working on the same thing, to extra questions from customers (how much longer is it going to take) and to items getting lost.
  • Overprocessing: This also occurs in the office environment. A well known example is adding more information than customers need.
  • Overproduction: This can be harder to spot in an office environment. One that may occur is producing to fast. This may not seem like a big thing, but while you were going too fast on this thing, you have not spent time on another. The reason for this is usually that the company does not know it's customers very well (the same goes for overprocessing).
  • Waiting: This often happens in office value streams. Different departments have different responsibilities and different priorities. This will lead to extra lead time in the handling of requests. Since people will work on another request in the meantime only going to the gemba will help in seeing the waiting time. Waiting tends to be frustrating for everyone involved.
  • Defects: This is equally important in an office environment as in a production environment and for the exact same reasons.
  • Skills unused: This is equally important in an office environment as in a production environment and for the exact same reasons.

Specific office wastes

Waste in the office

There are times when i adjust TIMWOODS to the office environment. This is when equipment downtime or time spent on inspection are big problems. Both lead to distrust and frustration in employees and customers alike. 

  • Inspection: Inspection does not add value. It is usually created to get a feeling of control with regard to defects. But inspection can only show defects once they have occured. So it does not solve anything. Better standards and taking away root causes will help. Sometimes inspection is mandatory because of a law or oversight committee. You can work with them on making inspection less time consuming and more effective. Some oversight committees are also open to dropping inspection when you can show the root cause of a problem is solved. 
  • Equipment downtime: In an office environment equipment downtime can be a hidden waste. People will work on something else when one system is down. This will have an effect on lead time and sometimes also on defects. It costs money and time, therefor trying to reduce equipment downtime is always a good idea. 

Apart from looking for waste you can also look for strengths. As always going to the gemba and be respectful is key to success. 


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