Reader Brenda submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
[I’m] looking for guidelines or rules on how to operate a central supply room.
I strongly recommend taking as much from Lean systems as possible when it comes to supply room organizing. If you are unfamiliar with Lean, check out The Toyota Way. In short, the basic philosophy of Lean systems is to trim the fat (waste, unnecessary processes, etc.) and improve the flow and quality of work. These systems apply wonderfully to office supplies because objects like reams of paper and toner cartridges can be counted, tracked, sorted, organized, and replaced systematically.
The five phases (5S) of Lean are: sorting, straightening, sweeping, standardizing, and sustaining. You can immediately see how these concepts apply to office supplies — sort them, straighten them (organize), , standardize them, sweep them (clean them and the room), and sustain the system (maintain).
Start by sorting items into groups by type. Do this in either an adjacent conference room or on the floor outside the room when employees aren’t present (like on a weekend). Group blue ball point pens with blue ball point pens, blue felt tip pens with blue felt tip pens, unsharpened pencils with unsharpened pencils, etc. Also during this time, create an inventory listing all the items, how many of each item you have, and the replacement information for that item (like a relevant catalog ID number from your supplier). If you could have one person creating the inventory in a database while someone else counts and reports, you can work relatively quickly.
Once sorted and inventoried, focus on the straightening and standardizing portions of the project by returning the items to the storage area. If you need to install shelves or bins, do so after evaluating how much stuff you have during the sorting phase. On the shelves, label storage bins and boxes very specifically so that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place (Staples: 26/6; Staples: 23/20; Manila Folders: 1/3 cut, 8.5″ x 11″; Manila Folders: 1/3 cut, 8.5″ x 14″; etc.). Consider using colors as visual cues for even more detailed subdivision — all paper products can sit in bins of the same color, all tools in another color. Make things as standardized as possible.
Any work done in the central supply room should have detail instructions posted nearby. (In Lean terminology, these are sometimes referred to as kanban billboards.) If someone has to ask how to make a photocopy/replace paper in the photocopier/shred papers/unjam paper from the shredder/etc. it means the processes are not properly outlined or posted. Make these posters as part of the straightening and standardizing processes.
For the sweeping/cleaning process, have a weekly time on the schedule to re-organize, evaluate, run a detailed inventory, and clean/dust the room. In Lean systems, the word Kaizen is usually associated with this process. The belief with Kaizen is that there is always room for improvement, so you should be continuously looking for ways to make things better. If the central supply room experiences extremely high traffic, this chore may need to be done once or twice a day.
One person should manage this room and be responsible for keeping track of inventory, ordering supplies, and organizing, evaluating, and cleaning the room. Although one person will be in charge of the room, you’ll still want to allow other employees access to the room. So other people will be able to be good team members and help the supply room manager (teamwork plays an important role in Lean), use pull cards, which notify the supply room manager that new products need to be ordered. (These pull cards are also a type of kanban, and will often be referred to as such.) These cards are slipped into stacks of items, usually before the second-to-last or next-to-last supply, and say something obvious like, “Time to reorder,” on them and include the product code (definitely include the product name or the supply manager won’t know what to order). There should be a collection bin for these pull cards where employees can deposit them to notify the supply room manager. Implement as many standardized processes as necessary to make things easier on employees and the supply room manager.
For sustaining and maintaining, train all staff members how to appropriately use the new central supply room. The person running the supply room will be constantly frustrated if this training is not done well. Training may have to happen more than once, and employees’ abilities to properly use the storage area should be regularly reviewed.
Thank you, Brenda, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope implementing a Lean system will help to bring order to your central supply room. Also, check the comments for even more insights into using and implementing Lean systems for office supplies.
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