Green Manufacturing: Signing off on Paperless

Human hand winner sticks of pile of paper, victory over bureaucracy concept

Advancements in technology has been eradicating the need for paper documentation for businesses across many industries.

Going ‘green’ and ‘lean’ are clichés in their own right, but the changes have become more and more apparent in recent past. We have already seen the publishing industry make the plunge to predominantly digital.

However, in the manufacturing sector, many documents are still processed the traditional way by being printed out. In most organizations, 63 percent of the paper being printed out are due to the need for signatures.

For example, when an EMS provider manufactures goods for say, a medical device company (or other companies in industries with specific protocols and laws), there is a large paper trail related to compliance and engineering specs that requires several signatures. By the time the process is closed, multiple printouts of the document (which could be over 50 pages if it has engineering drawings) have been signed, scanned and circulated to multiple people, possibly in distant locations.

This results in an abundance of paper records, which end up costing companies a significant amount of space, time, money, and in terms of the environment, trees.

The boxes and cabinets necessary to store all the physical documents not only take up space, but they are also inefficient. Locating files manually could take drastically longer than tracking the document electronically.

Manufacturers also have to factor in the time wasted in signing a document, scanning it and having to circulate to another person in a remote location to do the exact same thing. This is not even taking into account if there are revisions to the document.

The financial implications tied to physical documentation are higher than you might think. The average employee who has signing authority signs an average of 250 documents a year, which adds roughly $1,350 in annual paper-related costs. For large companies, this figure can easily exceed $100,000 per year.

Cost and Resource Reduction

Transitioning to paperless manufacturing lowers the cost of doing business for companies. It eliminates paper and ink expenses, it allows employees to focus on other tasks, and it frees up physical storage space that can be used more productively.

One of the ways manufacturers are going paperless is through digital signatures. Using services that allow companies to sign, file and distribute electronically can reduce the $1,350 per signer annual cost to under $100. It can also decrease paper consumption by over 50 percent, which is hugely beneficial for “green” companies looking to not only reduce overhead expenses but lessen their environmental impact.

However, going paperless can be a challenge for manufacturers. With a lot of industries like medical and security typically having strict protocols related to documentation, making sure that digital signing complies with regulatory standards can present some barriers. As a result, there are still companies and organizations that only accept ink-based signatures.

There are also costs to invest in the technology, including hiring somebody to run and implement it. Making the transition can also take time, as you migrate over from your past protocols. For some organizations, this can take up to a few years to fully integrate.

Eventually, all manufacturing facilities will operate 100 percent paperless, it just takes planning and the proper sign-off.

2 Things You Can Do Today to Harness the Power of Email

Want to Harness the Power of Email?
Want to Harness the Power of Email?

“There’s no problem that email can’t make worse!” – Unknown

Running across this modern-day “truism” made me reflect on the challenges that I have encountered with email over the years. I’ve experienced my share of frustration with this vital communication tool – too many, unnecessary, inappropriate, too long, missing attachments, confusing, ALL CAPS, and so on.

Any of these ever bothered you?

A key part of the Creation culture is Continuous Improvement, and so we began wondering what we could do to improve our own use of email.

Guess how many e-mails are generated by Creation people in a typical day?

Our company of about 3,000 people sends between 6,000 and 10,000 external emails each day, plus those we send internally. That’s a staggering number any way you look at it.

There were many things running through my mind as I researched email best practices from a variety of sources – the internet, prior training and current teammates. What follows are my preliminary findings and my first top 2 recommendations for improving the way we use email.

Do you want to significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your work habits and help your own company succeed? Read on.

2 Easy Ways to Improve Your Use of Email

    1. Take Your Hands off the Keyboard

      Did you know some experts believe that 93% of all communication that takes place is non-verbal and non-written?

      Let’s start at the beginning. Why are we sending the email in the first place?

      Is it going to someone in the same building in which we are located? If so, would a face-to-face discussion be more appropriate? If not, would a phone call be a better choice?

      If you’re giving direction, feedback or recommendations that have any degree of complexity or emotion in them, a face-to-face discussion is always better.

      Email is one-way communication and is a very poor method of conveying emotion. A huge part of communication is through our facial expressions, gestures, body posture and voice inflection, none of which can be conveyed adequately by email no matter how many emoticons we use! 😉 😕 🙂


  1. Limit Distribution & Be Clear about the Action You Want Recipients to Take

    “What do you mean you didn’t do anything about it? I copied you on the email!”

    There are plenty of good uses for email.

    Maybe you’re forwarding an important communication or document from a customer, supplier or teammate. Maybe you’re documenting a conversation we had on a topic that needs to be communicated in writing, or needs to be sent to many people so that everyone gets the same message at the same time.

    When you are sending an email like these ones, don’t fall into the trap! We tend to make two critical errors here – we don’t make clear who we expect to take action, if any is necessary, and we include too many people on the communication.

    Always limit the distribution to those who need to take action or know the information!

    The “To” field should only include those who are expected to act on the email. Ideally this is just one person if follow up of any type is required.

    The “Cc” field should only include those that have a “need to know” for some reason but who do not need to take action on the email. That reason should not include the common “CYA” (Cover Your Assets) to prove to someone that you took action. This behavior is muda (wasteful) and is a sign of a low-trust environment.

    Address the trust issue instead!

    Finally, the “Bcc” field should never be used except in the special case of mass mailing of information where you want to preserve the privacy of the recipients. Using it to communicate “secretly” is a violation of trust – it’s like talking behind someone’s back.

Remember the game of “Whac-a-Mole”? Well this is “Whac-eMail”! How many emails can YOU whack?

Whac-e-Mail... The Email Version
Whac-e-Mail… The Email Version

Seriously, though, if we can all be a bit more intentional by applying some of the simple principles outlined above (and more to come in future posts plus those in this great earlier post by Landon, Are You A Slave to Email? aka Master Your Email Inbox. Today!), we can make a significant reduction in emails which will free up time for all of us. Who couldn’t use a little more time?

What do think? Is email management an issue for you? Are you struggling to stay current with your inbox? Have you had any significant email “breakthrough” experiences? Do you have some favorite email tips that you would like to share?

Unclutter Your Clutter! Introduction to the 5S+1 Visual Workplace

Unclutter Your Clutter
5S + 1 Isn’t Just for the Production Floor

A common myth about 5S+1 is that it is lame, difficult to implement, and is for Production areas only.

The reality is that 5S+1 is awesome, easy to deploy, and is a key component in everything we see today!

Just take a moment and imagine the world without visual signs. What do you see? My guess is that it would be very chaotic, disorienting, and a not-so-happy place to live.

From grocery store markings to traffic signs to sport scores on a Jumbotron, 5S+1 is used everywhere we look!

5S + 1 and Visual Management Systems Are Everywhere We Look
5S + 1 and Visual Management Systems Are Everywhere We Look

What Is 5S + 1? Perception & Association

5S+1 is a 6-step process. It focuses on making an area more efficient by removing unnecessary clutter and laying out items in an ergonomic and safe manner. It uses visual signs to ensure that certain conditions, instructions, and actions are quickly recognizable.

At Creation, 5S+1 is an important element in our Pursuit of Excellence® Journey, because it makes things organized, visual and systematic.

It also helps us deliver faster service to our customers.

Here’s why…

Today, far too often we are all judged by first impressions and sometimes mistaken perceptions.

For example, a cluttered workspace may give the perception of a disorganized, non-productive, low quality factory. This is certainly not the message we want to send to our teammates, partners and customers.

So how can we lessen or prevent a perception of ‘being cluttered’, while reducing distractions and making ourselves more productive?

One quick way is with a little housekeeping, or 5S+1, in our work areas.

6 Simple Steps to De-Clutter

By applying these 6 simple steps we can systematically establish visual management and organize our workspace with ease.

1. Sort

Separate everything, (and I mean, everything), into 3 distinct piles: Keep, Maybe, Donate/Trash.

  • Keep: This pile is for things you really can’t live without and actually use.
  • Maybe: This pile is for the stuff you have trouble getting rid of, or you think you might use later.
  • Donate/Trash: This pile is for things you haven’t used in over a year, no longer need, or that don’t belong in your workspace. We also call this the ‘Red Tag’ pile. This is because it’s literally time to put a red tag on each item and get it out of your workspace. Once your items are tagged, place them in a designated Red Tag area for immediate disposition.

2. Set In Order

In this step it’s time for, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

  • Organize and distribute the ‘Keep’ pile in your workspace. Label and place items neatly throughout your area so that they are easy to retrieve and near where the work is actually being performed.
  • Once you’re sure that you need the items in the “Maybe” pile and that they belong in your work area, store them accordingly. For example, you could put these items into labeled boxes, or file folders in a less-used space in a cabinet.
5S Isn't Just for Manufacturing: Example of a Desk That's Been 5S +1'd!
Which workstation do you think offers you the best chance of being efficient and effective?

3. Shine

  • Clean your workspace and all equipment, and, going forward, make keeping things tidy and organized a priority!
  • At the end of your work day, clean your work area and ensure everything is put pack in its place.

This makes it easy to find things the next day and provides a quick, visual way to know what’s missing.

4. Standardize

  • Create a visual guideline or a checklist to keep your work area organized, orderly, and clean every day (see 5S+1 Office Checklist example below). Try using tape to identify ‘the place’ for different objects, and remember that labels can be used on ‘the place’ as well as on the object.

5. Sustain

  • Share your 5S+1 experience with your teammates. Let everyone know how you’ve implemented the methodology and how it’s helping your productivity.

Ensure your work area never reverts back to the old way!

5 +1. Safety

  • Safety is the “+1” in the 5S + 1 methodology, and was added after the development of the original 5Ss. Having a safe environment in which to work is extremely important, and 5S + 1 can help us do that.
  • Keep your work area safe. Look around for hazards each day. If they exist, eliminate them. For example, are there tripping hazards in your area, like PC cables, chairs etc?

Do you practice 5S + 1? What are your best tips for someone implementing it for the first time? What has worked well for you? What hasn’t?

Your Work Is More Than Your Title

You Are More Than Your Title
You are far more than your title.


Does your role limit what you can do?

The responsibilities you were hired for probably determine the primary goals of your day-to-day work. But I’m a firm believer that they aren’t all that you can, or even should, do.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a crane operator.

In this high-pressure role you are responsible for raising and lowering incredibly heavy loads based on instructions from a foreman.

One day, the foreman instructs you to lower the load to the ground. As you get ready to perform the task, you spy an abandoned vehicle precisely where the load will land. The foreman hasn’t seen the car. What do you do?

Think about it…then read onward.


Obviously, (hopefully?!), you don’t crush the car. But what else?

Would you try to figure out the root cause of the problem? Why the car is even there?

Is there an opportunity to improve the situation for next time? Maybe the signage directing work vehicles is misleading, or maybe there is a lack of security at the work site.

You could do only your assigned job, and in this case opt not to lower the cargo.

Or, you could make sure that vehicles are kept out of that area in the future and avoid another situation with a car where it doesn’t belong.

Which choice would you make?

Think about the role that you are in now.

Do you complete your work based on a precedent, or as you have been instructed? Is your current process based on the training you received from the person vacating the role, and was that person trained by the person before them?

A critical concept of Continuous Improvement is that the individual doing a task is most often the best person to figure out better ways of doing that task. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So how often do you suggest changes to the way the work is done based on your own experience?

You can make a bigger contribution.

The job you do isn’t the only contribution you can make.

Look for opportunities outside of the scope of your role. Choose to realize improvements.

I think you’ll experience not only the success of making positive change, but also a level of job satisfaction and peer recognition that will prove that your work is more than your title.

Are You A Slave to Email? (aka Master Your Email Inbox. Today!)

How many emails do you get a day? What happens when you go on vacation? Are you a slave to your Outlook task-master?

These are a few of the questions I like to ask when the opportunity presents itself. I love helping people battle email overload. It’s the Lean Accountant in me.

Email Overload = Email Slavery

Take, for example, my recent conversation with a Program Manager here at Creation. We were chatting as we waited for the coffee machine and the subject of vacation came up (among other lofty topics).

I asked if he was able to truly unplug during his vacation. “Sure,” he said, “except for checking my email.” My ears perked up.

Turns out he gets so many emails that he checks them on vacation to avoid a landslide when he comes back.

He went on to say that many of these emails are exchanged between the people on his Customer-Focused Team. One of the reasons our CFTs are co-located is to avoid this traffic. So why was it still occurring?

When I dug further, his estimate was around 1,000 total emails during one week of vacation.


Now this isn’t the case for everyone, but others have shared similar stories. This begs the question, “Is email really our job?”

I recently surveyed my business unit to see how people are managing email. A shocking 20% of us have 50 or more unread emails in our Inbox.

So how do we keep up with the tide? And how many emails are awaiting your attention right now…?

Take control and master your email Inbox! Start now!


5 Tips to Master Email Overload

Here are 5 of my favourite tools to help you manage your email. Some are simple to implement while others require more work. I use all of them.


Tip #1: Set expectations with the people who send you email about what you like or don’t like.

This is key. Though there are some common practices in ‘netiquette’, each person’s preferences for email use is different.

For example, I ask that people only send me emails that they believe I need to read. Period.

And please don’t send me ‘Thank you!’ emails! Thank me in person the next time we meet or speak.


Tip #2: Delete unnecessary messages.

This is a hard one for hoarders, but I really believe that much of the day-to-day email traffic can be safely deleted. Eliminate the muda!

(Many Lean principles are predicated on the elimination of muda, a Japanese word for waste, to focus on opportunity).


Tip #3: Use Rules to manage incoming messages.

At Creation we use Microsoft Outlook, but one of the great things about today’s email clients in general is that they allow you to set up Rules to manage email messages, automate tasks and increase the flow of information.

Take advantage of email Rules to manage the many notifications and group emails common these days. Use a Rule to move them to a folder for later review. (And then delete them. Remember Step 2?)


Tip #4: Add Categories or Follow-Up Flags to help you prioritize and organize.

If Rules can’t quite deal with an incoming message, try classifying it using the email client’s default Categories (and you can even customize the names to suit your own needs).

I apply the same Category schemes to my calendar. This visual management tool can help you quickly navigate your inbox.

Another way to keep on track is to add Follow-Up Flags and reminders. Sometimes an email requires a future response and Flags are a great way to jog your memory.


Tip #5: Set AutoArchive to clean up your folders automatically.

I have an annual archive file that receives my old emails (only the ones I want to keep) after about 3 weeks. This archive file is a searchable location but keeps the file size down on the server. Our IT team appreciates this one. Here’s a good article about managing AutoArchive features in Outlook 2010.

I’d love to read your thoughts. Are you in control of your inbox? Or are you a slave to email? Please share your own system and tips for managing it!



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