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The Secret to Successfully Running a Lean Office:
Daily Management (+PDF)

The unfortunate truth is that most leaders, especially in an office environment, don’t have as good of an idea of what is going on as they think they do.

If you are the manager of an administrative team, there’s a good chance that the last comment offended you. If it did, ask yourself the following questions right now (or first thing in the morning if you aren’t at work):

  • How much work is in your team’s queue? (Hint: if you have to use the word ‘about’ to answer, you probably are not as on top of things as you could be.)
  • How much work will be in your queue at the end of the day, and how does that compare to your plan?
  • Given expected demand and today’s staffing, how big will your backlog be at 10:00? What are your options to get back on track if you realize you are behind schedule? (Hint: if your first (or only) answer was overtime, you are not controlling your costs or your team’s well-being as much as you could be.)
  • What were the last three events that caused your team to fall behind their planned pace? Where do these things rank in your list of problems over the last month, and how many work units did each event cause your team to lose?
  • If your backlog is bigger than normal, is it due to higher than normal demand or due to problems? If it was because of to demand, exactly how many extra work units came in, and when did they arrive? What caused the increase? Is it permanent?

If you were able to answer those questions with ease, the opening statement does not apply to you because you are probably already using some form of daily management. If you were not able to answer all of those questions within just a few minutes, daily management can make your job, and your team’s jobs, a great deal easier while increasing productivity at the same time.

So What is Daily Management?

Daily management is a proactive, systematic approach to balancing capacity and expected demand. In a nutshell, it is a process for using Deming’s PDCA cycle to manage a workday.

But before we get too deep into the details, let’s talk about why daily management is not more widely used.

  • People don’t see a problem. Many managers do reasonably well using traditional, ‘gut-feel’ management. As a result, there is no crisis to drive them to look for a better way.
  • Daily management is not understood. Even though there is nothing mysterious or earth-shattering about daily management, it is not common, and so is not well-known to many leaders.
  • Daily management is uncomfortable. Daily management airs dirty laundry. It shines a light on problems as soon as they occur, and it highlights when problems are not being addressed.
  • Daily management is hard. It isn’t hard to understand. It is hard to do. It requires commitment by leaders. It requires work to maintain and improve its processes. It requires constant data collection by teams.

Overcoming these barriers will be hard, but the reward is great. An office with daily management system in place looks something like this…

A Production Board Syncs Up the Team

A leader or designated employee starts the day off by updating the production board. This is usually a highly visible dry erase board that shows where the team’s progress is expected to be at various points in the day.

The production board uses the principle of takt time to create demand windows. Obviously, this requires a thorough understanding of the expected workload to establish the required pace of production.

The production board also requires knowledge about the team’s capacity. This includes an understanding of cycle times (the sustained pace a team can keep). Plus, the production board must account for any time lost due to meetings, absences, planned system maintenance, 5S, improvement efforts, and all the other things team members must do.


  • Peaks and valleys in production are highlighted, allowing workload leveling. This leads to higher productivity and shorter lead times.
  • Potential problems are identified before they occur.
  • The planning process is transparent to team members, making them more engaged.

Teams Start the Day with a Morning Stand-Up Meeting

Before the team arrives in the morning, the leader prepares for a stand-up meeting. This means looking at the production board for any abnormal conditions, and pulling out the playbook to address any expected problems. The playbook is simply a predetermined set of actions to take in any given situation.

The goal of the stand-up meeting is to recap the previous day, plan the current day, and discuss problems. It also provides an opportunity to update the status of ongoing continuous improvement projects.

Every employee should participate in a stand-up meeting. The meeting should only last a few minutes, but it will inspire confidence that the boss is on top of things. It also gives the team a sense of control over issues that affect them and a chance to participate in problem solving.


  • Communication and morale improve because the entire team has a voice.
  • Problems are placed front and center, making them impossible to ignore.

Checkpoints Keep the Team on Track

As the day progresses, the production board is updated at several pre-determined times. Any variation from the morning’s plan is immediately apparent. The playbook again comes out to get the team on track. Then employees investigate the cause of the discrepancy in real time. This immediate scrutiny makes it easier to uncover the root cause of the problem. The team records the causes of the delay, and the most common issues quickly become continuous improvement projects.


  • Quality improves because a team isn’t rushing as much.
  • Cooperation between team members is improved because the flow of work is more transparent.
  • Problems are made apparent early on, before they become costly.

When it comes right down to it, daily management is all about creating a process to manage a process. It can be uncomfortable for some leaders to make the transition from traditional management to a highly structured daily management system.

But isn’t that what leaders ask their teams to do every day? If following a process brings consistency and efficiency to the way employees do their work, why wouldn’t it do the same for the way a boss manages those employees?


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