Improve Your Productivity With 3 Lean Manufacturing Principles

Time-management expert Daniel Markovitz says workers can apply the principles of lean manufacturing to improve their productivity. Here, he explains three lean manufacturing concepts and offers examples of how we can implement them.

Fri, March 02, 2012

CIO — Daniel Markovitz has been a student of lean manufacturing since he first read The Machine that Changed the World as a Stanford Business School student in 1992. Six years ago, when he became a time management and productivity consultant, Markovitz began studying how individual workers might benefit from the principles of lean manufacturing.

"Whether you're a giant factory making computer components or cars, or an individual at a desk producing reports, budgets or plans, you're a factory," says Markovitz, founder and owner of TimeBack Management. "You take inputs and transform them into outputs someone wants. The principles that underpin lean manufacturing—that enable companies to produce more value with less work—also apply at an individual level."

Here, Markovitz explains how IT professionals might implement three of his favorite lean manufacturing concepts to boost their productivity.

Lean Manufacturing Concept #1: 5S

The lean manufacturing notion of 5S has to do with maintaining a neat, organized workspace. 5S stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain. When companies implement 5S as part of a lean initiative, they make sure all unnecessary work tools and supplies are removed from the workspace (sort), that all necessary tools (such as a computer, monitor, keyboard, filing system) have their specific places (set in order), work spaces are cleaned as work is performed (shine), cleaning methods are applied consistently (standardize), and that the practice of 5S is continually improved (sustain).

Markovitz, who is also the author of A Factory of One (Productivity Press 2011), has adapted this concept to information. Markovitz believes making sure knowledge workers have quick, easy access to the information they need to do their jobs, such as the status of their work, is more important than having a specific place on their desks for, say, a stapler.

He worked with one client, a pathologist, to create a white board that displayed all the lab cases she was working on, along with the status of each case. Having information about her cases right in front of her, as opposed to on a spreadsheet buried somewhere on her computer or spread out across her desk, was critical since doctors were always calling her to learn the status of various cases. The white board prevented her from having to dig around her desk and credenza for the specific case file a doctor was asking about.

Lean Manufacturing Concept #2: Standardized Work

Automakers have standard ways of assembling cars, specific down to the hand an assemblyman uses to pick up a bumper and the pressure he applies to snap it into place, says Markovitz. Car makers adhere to such rigid manufacturing standards to reduce defects.

In the world of knowledge work, however, little work is standardized. For example, there are no standard ways to run a meeting, check email or perform a budget analysis, notes Markovitz. Yet he believes knowledge workers would benefit from such standards, which could prevent mistakes and oversights.

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