For more productive repairs, learn to apply lean principles to your office and administration process

April 2015

By Judy A. Lynch, Manager, Collision Repair Design Services
Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes

The Lean Collision Repair Office - Lynch other PR Img

Higher customer satisfaction, cost-cutting pressures, thinner margins, and shorter lead times are some of the daily challenges that collision facilities face. Organizations need robust, waste-free, flexible office processes that meet their customer needs and help them survive in the global marketplace. Applying lean principles to streamline and eliminate waste from your office and administrative processes will result in bottom-line savings.

Lean solutions are surprisingly simple and better yet, don’t require great capital expenditure. Lean is a proven, systematic approach for eliminating and minimizing waste that results in the production of goods or services at the lowest possible costs. It goes beyond the shop floor. Lean can be applied to every system, process and employee in your company.

Implementing a lean process flow isn’t just for the manufacturing floor. A huge opportunity lies in the non-manufacturing areas such as the administrative offices. The possibilities are endless because old traditional habits are hard to break. Only recently have companies started to apply lean principles to their office and administrative processes, however, when you realize that 60 to 80 percent of most costs associated with meeting customer demands is administrative in nature, you can understand why lean design makes a lot of sense.

So why hasn’t lean design taken hold in the office environment? First, there isn’t a clear understanding of process and office flow. Second, there’s a failure to understand waste and non–value added activities. Finally, most offices do not have a clear grasp of data needed to measure the impact of lean design benefits. A lean office delivers significant productivity gains, quality and customer service improvements through waste elimination and process optimization in office and administrative environments.

Before applying lean concepts to the office environment, you and your employees must understand the flow of work. Just as you map the value stream and focus on reducing lead time in manufacturing, you must map administrative processes to better understand how to make them more effective. Processes such as order entry, quoting, planning, parts procurement, parts receiving and others consume valuable time. These inefficient steps cause delays and customer dissatisfaction. The value stream is the entire set of activities across all parts of the organization involved in jointly delivering the product or service. This represents the end-to-end process that delivers the value to the customer.

Once you understand what your customer wants, the next step is to identify how you are delivering (or not delivering) that to them. Typically when you first map the value stream you will find that only 5 percent of activities add value. Eliminating waste ensures that your product or service flows to the customer without any interruption, detour or waiting. As you reorganize individual process steps, more and more layers of inefficiency become visible and the process continues to improve. Because one of the key principles of lean thinking is to minimize the time between the receipt of a customer vehicle and delivery of that vehicle, it is crucial to look at the entire lead time. To see the waste in these processes, we must map them.

The next step in lean design is the identification of which steps add value and which do not. A successful lean initiative requires identifying work that adds value or worth to products or service. Non value-added work may not directly add value but is necessary for either business or regulatory reason. By classifying all the process activities into these two categories it is then possible to start actions for improving the value-added steps and eliminating the waste. These definitions may seem rather 'idealist' but this tough definition is important to the effectiveness of this key step. Once value-adding work (actual work) has been separated from waste then waste can be subdivided into needs to be done (auxiliary work), non-value adding waste and pure waste. The clear identification of 'non-value adding work' is critical to identifying the assumptions and beliefs behind the current work process and to challenging them to improve the process. After we identify the waste (non value-added steps) and what needs to be worked on, we can apply lean tools such as continuous flow, 5S and visual controls.

Waste is the killer to your business and should be eliminated as fast as possible. A Lean Collision Repair Office actually categorizes waste in seven buckets:

  1. Waiting - people waiting for information in order to do work.
    Waiting for meetings participants, waiting for faxes or a copy machine, for the system to come back up, for a customer response, for a vendor approval, or a handed-off file to come back.

  2. Defects – any work that did not accomplish its purpose or was not correct the first time. Data entry errors, pricing errors, missing information, missed specifications, or lost files and records incorrect information, conflicting information, rework.

  3. Transportation - unnecessary movement of material or information that doesn’t add value. Retrieving or storing files, carrying documents to and from shared equipment, taking files to another person, going to get signatures or approvals.

  4. Motion –people moving, working or thinking without producing.
    Searching for files, extract clicks or keystrokes, clearing away files on the desk, gathering information, looking through manuals and catalogs, or handling paperwork, tracking down information.

  5. Over production – producing unnecessary work or deliverables.

  6. Too many signature levels, too many emails, ineffective meetings, more information that the customer needs, more information than the next process needs, creating reports no one reads, or making extra copies.

  7. Over Processing- unnecessary effort to get the work done. Meeting participants that are not required, creating reports, repeated manual entry of data, use of outdated standard forms or use of inappropriate software.

  8. Inventory – work that is waiting to be processed or more material /information than the customer needs. Data entry errors, pricing errors, missing information, missed specifications or lost records, emails or work orders.

Cycle time is very important in the collision repair industry and very important to how you differentiate your shop in the market. It is important to drive lean initiates in your office functions and supply chain to improve your competitive difference and deliver value to your customers. Lean solutions create significant time and cost savings resulting in a long lasting improvement to your controlled business environment.

What if employees on the front lines of your organization not only were great employees on their assigned job, but simultaneously generated simple ideas to increase efficiency? In other words, improvements where the employee identifies a problem, does the evaluating and provides the solution – without the need of other resources.

These incremental improvements are what define kaizen, the essential element of the Lean Production System. At any given moment there could be many small improvement ideas in the pipeline. Not all of those ideas are successful, of course, but even ideas that don’t pan out often provide a useful learning experience to staff. When an employee identifies a problem – say for example, excessive and wasteful paperwork, the person working on the problem picks one simple metric; stresses that they work on ideas that are as simple as possible and does not get caught up in complicated metrics. A simple metric that answers basic questions: How do you know your idea worked? How do you know it solved the problem?”

What lean ideas has your office staff implemented in your everyday work?

Functional and beautiful, the reception area is inviting to both customers and employees.

The goal was to create a modern reception facility, designed specifically to offer customers a unique collision claim experience.

Photos Courtesy of Sisson's Body Works Inc., Delevan, NY 

The Sherwin-Williams Company, founded in 1866, is one of the world's leading companies in the manufacture, distribution and sale of coatings and related products to professional, industrial, commercial and retail customers. Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes a division of The Sherwin-Williams Company manufactures and distributes a complete line of advanced technology paint and coating systems for automotive and fleet refinishing industries.

Judy Lynch has 26 years of Automotive Industry experience working with Dealerships, Independents, Consolidators and Multiple Shop Operators. Judy created the Collision Repair Design Service department within Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes. For more information go to: Shop Layout and Design


Sisson's Body Works has been recognized as Western New York's premier collision repair facility for 25 years. With their dedication to service, quality, and professionalism, your experience with them is guaranteed to be the best in the industry.