Red Tape

I recently read a question on about paperwork. It wanted to know how to motivate people to do "useless paperwork" and stop whining about red tape. While most people apply lean thinking to manufacturing, it's not a big stretch to apply it to office work, especially paperwork.

Value-Added vs Non-Value Added Paperwork

I think you have to distinguish between value-added and non-value-added paperwork. If you need it for your ISO audit, then it's value-added and employees need to understand why it's necessary (to retain ISO certification and customers). When people complain about necessary paperwork, it's usually because they don't understand the why behind it.

Often, however, paperwork is a CYA (cover your behind) kind of thing that doesn't add value it just sucks up time and energy that could be spent serving customers. Like it or not, paperwork that does not serve a customer, is non-value added.

Just In Case Paperwork

When I worked in the phone company, we had thousands of reports that no one read. They printed and stored them "just in case" they might need them. Do you have too much "just in case" paperwork? From a Lean perspective, it's unnecessary inventory. Non-value added. If it can be generated "just in time" when it's needed, value-added.

Unnecessary Paperwork Inventory

Some people's job is to manage all the paper. They worry that if the paper went away, they wouldn't have a job. I see this in Healthcare. Less than 20% of hospitals have electronic medical records, which would be good for patients, but these folks are still addicted to their paper records which have to be stored and can't be retrieved easily. From a Lean perspective, this leads to delays in retrieval and diagnosis, as well as, unnecessary movement and storage of the paper records to offsite facilities. Non-value added.

Is there some way to make the paperwork an automatic by-product of the process that it documents rather than something that a person has to take time to do? Automate it.

Apply the 5S to Your Paperwork Inventory

If the suppliers of your paperwork are whining about it, then there's probably a problem:

  • Value-added vs Non-Value-Added?
  • Manual vs automated?
  • Just-in-Case vs Just-in-time? 

IIsn't it time to apply the 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain) techniques of Lean to clean up the unnecessary paperwork and red tape in your business?

Download my Lean Simplified book and Lean Simplified quick reference card, and get started today.

Once you've simplified and streamlined the process, you can then begin to improve and optimize it.


Every improvement leads to new insights into ways to further simplify, streamline or optimize operations to minimize cost and maximize profits.

Here's My Point

Much of your profit and loss statement is within your control. Economic downturns are the perfect time to laser focus the improvement effort and start eliminating unnecessary costs of waste and rework.

The alternatives of layoffs, bankruptcy or going out of business aren't really that attractive.

Stop whining about the economy! Start working on your business to plug the leaks in your cash flow.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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