Time to Get Lean

By: Kristi Spargo

Sometimes my job can be messy.  Chaotic.  Unorganized.  Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated with clients or co-workers for causing delays or problems. Sometimes I succumb to the belief that if only the cogs in the wheel would just turn like I think they are supposed to, then everything would fall perfectly into place. Sometimes I want to set up an assembly line and force the project to keep moving forward in the most simple and efficient fashion.

But that’s not realistic when working within a people-intensive field such as association management. Throughout my years in the industry, no matter what position I held, my primary focus has always been customer service.  Associations are built to meet people’s needs; it’s my job to facilitate that for association members and I accomplish it by working efficiently with my co-workers. As much as I might desire a planned and orderly day, I don’t work in a factory assembly line and therefore, I deal with whatever hits me first.  Yet I have found that there are some valuable manufacturing concepts that can assist in crafting a more streamlined workday.

Not even close to “lean”.

Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry focusing on a systematic approach to eliminating waste. As waste is eliminated the quality, workflow and value improves.  Obviously all work environments can be improved with the elimination of unnecessary effort. Here are some of my recommendations on how to foster a lean manufacturing environment in your office.


I have to admit this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Seriously….why are there so many meetings? I can’t count how many times I’ve sat listening (or I confess surreptitiously working from my phone and I know I’m not the only one) and thought to myself, there’s no purpose for me being here.  Before hitting that mass meeting invitation please take a moment and honestly ask yourself; do I need to schedule this meeting?  Can my answer be reached through a phone call with the primary project handler?  Will all of the attendees actually contribute to the conversation to reach a better outcome?  Or could they simply provide their input before the meeting to be referenced as needed. Remember, time is money.  Every minute that an unnecessary person sits in a meeting is time that could have been spent accomplishing another project.


Lean manufacturing is about finding more efficient models.

Don’t even get me started. I am unabashedly horrified when I see that people have thousands of emails. It makes me ill. Yet I realize that everyone has their own working style and I try to move on with my life and avoid looking at their inbox. I do challenge you to ask yourself though before hitting send; do all of these people need to be copied on this email? Is it really necessary to hit reply all? Have I covered everything that I needed so I don’t have to send additional emails? Have I anticipated recipient questions and answered them ahead of time? Did I thoroughly answer the questions that were posed to me?  Did I attach the document? Remember, every extraneous email sent only increases the likelihood that your request will get ignored. No one wants to be that person that gets auto-deleted.  Keep your focus on the topic at hand and keep the number of emails and recipients to a minimum.


A big component to lean manufacturing is keeping a clean working environment. If your desk currently hosts the remnants of 15 different projects, it’s going to detract from an efficient workflow. It’s ok to have 15 different projects going at the same time; hey, it’s part of the mystique of association work. In order to be successful, however, a system needs to be put in place. When you look around your office you should be able to quickly identify your pending projects, which ones are the priority, and what needs to be filed or preferably, pitched. Remember, sometimes the circular filing cabinet (aka the trash can) is the most organized system of all.

There are many elements to lean manufacturing that can be easily applied to increase efficiency throughout your workday.  Take the time to deliberately eliminate one or two areas of wasted time and effort and I promise you will more than make up that time. As an added bonus, your co-workers may even like you more too.



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