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Handoffs are the times work is passed from one person to another person. In most cases, a handoff entails reorienting the work and getting it ready to add value to it.

Handoffs in manufacturing act a little like a speed bump. It creates a hiccup in the flow of work. When the handoff is disjointed, the effect is bigger. Think of putting parts into a cart that sits in queue, and then has to be wheeled over to the next step in the process. The poor handoff creates waste.

But consider the case of an indexed assembly line. When a product is passed on to the next worker, it is typically in the same orientation and condition every time. The handoff gets even smoother.

And when Lean gets into high gear, and a process needs only three people instead of five (freeing workers up-no layoffs!), two handoffs go away entirely.

In the office, handoffs require mental reshuffling of work. Pulling up a spreadsheet, reading it, and asking questions are all wasteful activities that come as a result of a handoff. The goal? Eliminate the handoff and work to completion.

Handoffs should be eliminated, if possible. Which is preferable: two people each producing a complete product, or the same two people working in sequence, with each building half of the product? In most cases, all things being equal, the first is preferable-it gives more flexibility, and creates ownership.

Often, though, there are factors that make working in series more desirable. If the process uses expensive tools, you might not want to duplicate them. If the process needs extensive space, you may not want to devote the square footage to multiple complete workstations. Complexity of the work may also be too great for a single worker to remember everything. In these situations, the cost of handing off work becomes the less wasteful choice.

There is often less attention paid to handoffs in administrative processes than on the shop floor. Most people gravitate to specialists in the office, even if the work doesn’t require it. They think that an order entry specialist and an accounting specialist have to be separate. In reality, one person handling the entire transaction start to finish may reduce the waste of handoffs.

That’s because in an administrative process, handoffs can become an extensive ordeal. Handing off a customer requires entering and reading extensive notes about previous interactions. If the note is misinterpreted, there is a cost in asking for clarification, or in appeasing the customer.

Consider how to minimize the impact of these handoffs, or eliminate them altogether to gain increased efficiency.


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