What Does Office Work Have to Do With Production?

I was asked to lead a workshop in the sales order department of a manufacturer that we had helped with process improvement on the factory floor. Those efforts had positively reverberated across the company in the form of fewer late and expedited orders. Still, sales order employees were wondering why we were picking on the order department. “Why don’t you just stay in the factory where the problems are?” asked Harry, the order department manager.

“Well, let’s go see,” I said. “Can we start with the last step in the process?”

Off we trekked to the sales order entry, Harry still protesting that there would not be much to see: “She’s just keying in orders.”

I thanked Amy for taking time to help us understand order entry. Then I suggested to Harry that we move upstream to the order writers to observe their work. “Thanks, that won’t be necessary today,” Harry said. “I’m convinced. Let’s pick a date to get an improvement project started in this department.”

Recalling a quote from W. Edwards Deming: “The main difference between service and manufacturing is the service department doesn’t know that they have a product.”

Published March 19, 2024, in the Old Lean Dude blog.

منبع: https://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/customer-care-article/what-does-office-work-have-do-production-042224.html

I noticed that the wall behind Amy’s desk was covered with Post-it notes. On her desk, handwritten orders were apparently sorted into several piles. As Amy finished the order she was working on and turned to us, I introduced myself and thanked her for taking a minute to talk about the process.

Amy said, “They put all the orders with questions aside until I get back.”

Harry’s eyes perked up. “How long do you wait to hear for answers?” he asked Amy. “Sometimes I hear back in minutes, but others take a while,” Amy replied as she dug into the pile to show us an example. “Like this one,” she said. “It has been here over two weeks.”

Amy responded, “No worries on that one. They’re having great sales this month and exceeded their credit limit. Once accounting sees that, they’ll remove the credit hold.”

“How about these orders?” I asked, pointing to another pile. “Those are on credit hold,” Amy said. “I can’t enter those until accounting removes the hold.” Harry picked up one of the orders and exclaimed, “But this order is from our biggest distributor! Why are they on credit hold?”

“I’m curious about the different piles that you’re working from,” I said. “Can you please explain them?” With a smile she responded. “This here is my waiting-for-answers pile: It could be missing a shipping address or a request date, or maybe I can’t read the handwriting, like this one,” she said as she held up an example. “I sort these out before I start to enter so I don’t get stuck in the middle of an order. Then I email the order writer.”

Happy spring!

“Yes,” I responded, “there are still many opportunities in the factory. But can we take a quick walk through a sales order to watch the process?” With some reluctance, Harry agreed, but offered, “There’s really not much to see. This is office work; we’re not building anything.”

“Things like special terms or special product options that aren’t on the computer,” Harry added. “We have to do some things in spite of the system to keep customers happy.”

I didn’t attempt to dispute, but thought to myself, “Yes, you are, you’re building the order that the factory needs to produce the product.”

At this point, feeling like maybe the observation was helping to make a case for improving office work, I changed the topic. “How about the Post-it notes on your wall?” I asked. “Those are special conditions for specific customers,” Amy said.

Amy, the sales order entry clerk, was busy at the computer as we approached. “Just let me finish this order,” she said. “All good,” I replied, “we’ll just observe.” Harry looked at me and rolled his eyes.

“That makes no sense,” Harry blurted out. “I agree,” said Amy, “but that’s the system.”

‘The main difference between service and manufacturing is the service department doesn’t know that they have a product.’
—W. Edwards Deming

“Hm,” I replied. “There are a lot of special notes here to follow. How do you ever take a vacation?”

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