64.1, February 2017

Toward a Critical Alignment with Efficiency Philosophies

Joanna Schreiber, Georgia Southern University


Purpose: Research has indicated technical and professional communicators (TPCs)continue to struggle with establishing value in the workplace. Studies advocate for more effective communication with management, but scholarship has yet to adequately address the relationship between establishing and explaining value and management philosophy. This article takes up the two issues of workplace value and “speaking the language of business” as they relate to management efficiency philosophy, specifically Lean and Six Sigma. I argue that management philosophy, particularly efficiency philosophies, is an integral, yet often overlooked, aspect of organizational context that affects both organizational structures and cultures.

Method: I share the results of an ethnographic study of a series of trainings that were part of a Lean initiative. I buttress these observations with two documents, one internal and one customer-facing, from Lean Six Sigma initiatives.

Results: The trainings illustrate the work of creating an organizational culture and the importance of communication in developing a sustainable Lean culture. The two documents are examples of how processes and workflow (e.g., organizational structures) are written in efficiency environments.

Conclusion: Practitioners and researchers should see efficiency management philosophies as important components of organizational contexts not to be glossed over. Communication is acknowledged as important to maintaining culture, but TPC knowledge and expertise are not necessarily recognized. The two documents show opportunities in these kinds of cultures to make work visible and establish value.

Keywords: technical communication value, lean, efficiency, management practices, organizational culture

Practitioner’s Takeaway:

  • TPC work is incredibly valuable in efficiency environments but not always visible. My observations of Lean trainings give practitioners a sense of the role and importance of communication in developing a sustainable Lean culture.
  • I suggest using structural documentation, like the documents discussed here, to strategically and effectively make TPC work both visible and valuable to efficiency cultures.


Phrases such as “continuous improvement,” “lean,” “data-driven,” “value-added,” and “measureable outcomes” have become so commonplace that we don’t often think about the efficiency management philosophies that constitute and inform these concepts and practices. In their study of evolving workplaces, Edwards and Wajman (2005) observe: “While employees are encouraged to be self-reliant, innovative, and make their own career choices, at the same time they are expected to be good team players, to conform to company norms, and to be subjected to ever tighter financial and operational accountability” (p. 70). In an age of austerity, many companies, and even universities, continue to turn to efficiency philosophies and Edwards and Wajman’s list of management expectations for employees remains relevant.

Efficiency management philosophies are of particular interest to Technical and Professional Communication (TPC) for the reasons Wajman and Edwards note above—these philosophies have shaped workplaces, influencing cultures and practices from workflow, to defining work value, to project management. Thus, effective communication, including explaining the value of TPC work, depends upon tying arguments to underlying management philosophies. I use efficiency management philosophies as an umbrella term to include philosophies, methods, models, and frameworks focused managing people, resources, and projects in terms of quality and/or speed. In this article, I argue that efficiency management philosophies are an important contextual factor to workplace studies and TPC work and that we need to acknowledge and foreground these philosophies in our discussions of the role and value of TPC.

Today’s efficiency management philosophies (e.g., Lean and Six Sigma) stem from earlier efficiency movements such as Taylorism and Fordism and, therefore, still have many connections to readily visible and easily measured production and manufacturing work. A training facilitator, with a background in the auto industry, described Lean as “factory floor thinking in an office setting” (May 29) as part of a Lean initiative at a university. This focus on visible work and products does not always translate neatly to knowledge work, like TPC. But while the focus on visible work may be problematic for knowledge work, these philosophies also purport to empower workers by providing tools for problem solving and defining work processes and workflow. If these tools do indeed empower workers, then TPC practitioners and researchers need to make more explicit connections when approaching issues of practitioner value, visibility, and role. For example, work processes are necessarily interconnected and interdependent, creating the need for communication processes to facilitate the flow of information to necessary stakeholders. As I discuss below, my observations of the Lean initiative suggest that communication is recognized as important to Lean, but that the knowledge and skills involved in communication practices are not necessarily understood.

Practitioner value, visibility, and role are all intimately tied to workplace culture and efficiency management philosophies can define culture. TPC scholars have noted issues with explaining value in relation to management (e.g., see Brady & Schreiber, 2013; Dubinsky, 2015), but scholarship has not yet adequately addressed the relationship between establishing and explaining value and management philosophy. TPC scholars have also argued that value and visibility can be achieved by speaking the language of business (e.g., see Sullivan et al., 2003). Students are encouraged to examine mission statements and other corporate branding documentation to get a sense of corporate culture. In “Moving from the Periphery,” Sullivan et al. (2003) argue that a technical communicator ought to work to become a “full member” of an organization, which requires “investing” in organizational culture (pp. 124–125): “By imagining oneself in the context of the organization and contributing to its goals, one begins to identify with the organization and discover ways of taking initiative appropriately” (Sullivan et al., 2003, p. 128). For Sullivan et al., becoming part of the organizational culture is not about simply fitting in. Rather, one must be immersed in corporate culture in order to successfully initiate change. While developing one’s ethos and being able to effectively read social practices are important, these qualities must be informed beyond the surface social situations, company mission and goals, etc. For example, if the workflow at a company requires TPC work to be initiated by engineers or other subject matter experts (SME), it will be more effective to make an argument from within the culture that TPCs also need to be able to initiate their own projects. From within the culture, it would be easier to make the change a permanent part of the workflow rather than a one-time fix.

What are missing from previous discussions of value and workplace culture are the philosophies constituting workplace culture. In a study of Lean trainings, I show what goes into creating a Lean culture at one institution. I buttress this study with an analysis of two Lean Six Sigma documents—one internal and one customer-facing—to show potential opportunity for TPCs to define their value within the system and potential to be defined by the system. By bringing the products of workplace culture into conversation with the development of workplace culture, I illustrate that opportunities for defining work and establishing value are present. But these opportunities need to be acted upon.

Understanding efficiency philosophy is crucial to understanding how TPC work is organized and defined in such environments. We need to recognize the contextual importance of these philosophies as they affect both workplace cultures and structures—this is one way to “speak the language of business.” In the following sections, I argue that understanding efficiency management philosophies is crucial to speaking the language of business and understanding (and becoming a member of) organizational culture, as well as opportunities to foreground value in that culture.

Value and the Language of Business

Much has been said about the role and value of technical and professional communicators (TPC) in the workplace. In 1996, Johnson-Eilola, in his often cited “Relocating the Value of Work,” called for rearticulating TPCs as the symbolic-analytic workers needed in the information economy, arguing that as system thinkers rather than static skill workers, TPCs would be more valued in the workplace. In the same year, Saul Carliner (1996) asked and offered a possible answer to how technical communicators can feel strategic to an organization. He contended “ . . . many of us do not think about aligning our priorities with the needs of business or conveying those needs in business terms. Our occupational culture currently does not value it” (Carliner, 1996, p. 271). In order to be valued, in other words, TPCs need to be willing to tie their knowledge and skills to the terminology and concepts used by the organization, including underlying efficiency philosophies.

As organizational structures shift, research has focused on TPC roles and value in team and project-based environments (e.g., see Redish, 2010; Amidon & Blythe, 2008). Hart and Conklin’s (2006) study of experienced technical communicators indicates that technical communicators are becoming increasingly important parts of teams and serve important roles in developing processes and facilitating relationships. Organizational shifts have required TPCs to change as well. Hart and Conklin (2006) note that TPCs are carving out new roles: “Technical communicators are becoming strategic negotiators who bring disparate groups into conversations that are ultimately intended to benefit our user audiences” (p. 413). In other words, flattening organizations no longer have mid-level managers to help facilitate communication across functions, and some TPCs in this study have seen the need and successfully taken up the role.

While Hart and Conklin’s (2006) study shows that there are TPCs who have successfully transitioned with the changing workplace, where work is managed more by process than by individual managers, there is evidence that at least some technical communicators continue to have trouble establishing value in the workplace. Dubinsky (2015) observes: “The issue of visibility and value comes up over and over again, particularly during discussion about products and processes, which is one of the driving reasons for this research” (p. 119). Each researcher in a recent special issue of Technical Communication suggests that technical communicators in some way need to better understand business contexts, to speak the language of business or to demonstrate their abilities in ways relevant to the business context (See Baehr, 2015; Dubinsky, 2015; Kimball, 2015b).

Positioning TPCs to best apply their strong rhetorical and communication skills requires management to recognize the value of these skills, but the burden of understanding the value of TPC cannot be placed solely on management. System thinking, as called for by Johnson-Eilola, is required to examine and understand these contexts, but the concepts and terminology of management are also required in order to appropriately align with them. For example, Hart and Conklin (2006) describe technical communicators providing cross-functional communication processes where none existed. But the skill and expertise needed to develop these processes must be articulated effectively for management to both understand the value of that particular work and the value of technical communicators. Giammona (2004) argues the ability to communicate across domains is necessary both to be managers and to effectively work with management:

We need to be able to sit at the table with the heads of technology functions in our organizations as well as those on the business side, with those in manufacturing, marketing, sales, customer service, human resources, and with senior management, to pitch our services, make a business case for our functions and deliverables, and delineate eloquently the value we provide. (p. 361)

This ability to communicate and work effectively hinges on the ability to relate to the terminology used in those contexts, which, as Sullivan et al. (2003) point out, is closely tied to organizational culture. Technical communicators need to understand organizational culture in order to see their work from that perspective, and imperative to understanding organizational culture is understanding underlying philosophies. From the position of cultural insider, TPCs can begin to define the value of their work. While Hart and Conkin’s (2006) study suggests technical communicators are finding new opportunities in flattening organizations, Dubinsky’s (2015) work suggests there is still more work to be done in terms of establishing TPC value.

Articulating value, even when specifically serving organizational objectives, is not always an easy endeavor and can be an unfair burden. One example is when organizational categories and titles have not kept pace with organizational shifts and needs. In Brady and Schreiber’s (2013) case study, the research participant, “Brenda,” is classified as a technical writer, though her work centers on project management, unlike traditional technical writers at this particular company. Where Brenda is embedded directly in projects, others with her title are primarily tasked with formatting final documents. She uses her performance review to explain the difference between the two roles and also has to write a response to her boss’ evaluation in order to drive the point home. While this is a solution, it is not sustainable for at least two reasons: 1) over the long run, it’s likely to cause friction between Brenda and her boss, and 2) it is not visible to the rest of the organization. As Brady and Schreiber suggest, Brenda needs to find a way to make her argument throughout the year, not just in the performance review. More visible documentation, such as the examples below, offer opportunities for people like Brenda to make their valuable but distinct roles a more visible part of the organization’s culture and workflow.

Below, I illustrate the effort and expense of developing a Lean culture and provide examples of semi-permanent documents TPCs should use to effectively define their role and value in an organization. As my observations of Lean trainings show, the role of communication is acknowledged as important to the implementation and sustainability of Lean culture, but there is no acknowledgement of professional communication experts or specialized expertise needed for professional communication.

As Sullivan et al. (2003) suggest above, integration into a company’s culture is key to making changes. I argue that it is also key to understanding how organizational structures shape your role and how it relates to other roles (e.g., job titles and workflow). These efficiency philosophies construct a particular work culture and structure; therefore, they are essential to truly understanding and negotiating organizational culture.

Cultivating Lean Culture

I conducted an ethnographic study of a series of trainings that were part of a university Lean initiative from May 2012 to October 2012. I observed, but did not participate in, the trainings. This particular phase of the overall Lean initiative was directed at staff members from areas including IT, marketing, accounting, human resources, housing, transportation, and dining. Though the setting is a university, the professionals involved in these events would be represented in workplaces outside of higher education. Participants were facilitators (those tasked with being resources for Lean implementation for their area), team leaders (those tasked with leading Lean improvements for their area), and team members. Each month between May 2012 and November 2012, the same group of professionals attended the training. Two corporate consultants led the trainings, hereafter referred to as training consultants so as not to be confused with the Lean facilitators they were training. The training consultants began to reach out to a wider audience, with short seminars open to the whole university community in August 2012.

In total, I observed 7 trainings, including one Kaizen event, for a total of over 25 hours. I also observed a one-hour, campus-wide seminar. The trainings were held each month for 7 months, though I was only able to attend through month six (See Appendix A for a sample training schedule). Each monthly training was an all-day or, in most cases, a two-day event. These events included facilitator trainings, trainings that included facilitators and their teams, and special activities (e.g., gembas or walk-throughs) at team sites. The trainings I observed were facilitator trainings.

Kaizens, which are large problem-solving events, bring together multiple stakeholders and can last multiple days. In this case, the Kaizen lasted 8 hours. A gemba is a walk-through of the workspace to provide management a grounded understanding of workflow. Lean and Lean Six Sigma are flexible and have several common concepts and tools, but not all organizations or approaches will emphasize or use all of them. For example, Ries (2011) does not emphasize the 5S (Sort-Straighten-Shine-Standardize-Sustain) tool in The Lean Startup, but it is emphasized in the trainings I observed and in other Lean approaches (e.g., Liker, 2004; Liker & Convis, 2012). These concepts (e.g., Kaizen and gemba) often reveal the Japanese roots of these philosophies as well as the insider language developed for workplace cultures developed from and using Lean. A glossary of terms used in this article is included in the appendix, but it should not be considered an exhaustive list.

Topics covered during my study are common to Lean and included Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), Sort-Straighten-Shine-Standardize-Sustain (5S), value stream and process mapping, A3 problem solving, Socratic questioning, metrics, standardized work, and continuous improvement. Other topics and documents covered included one-pagers, balanced scorecards, swim lanes, visual cues, A3 reports, and root causes.

The two training consultants promoted an organic approach to implementing a Lean culture change in an organization. They increasingly emphasized that the tools of Lean could be used as weapons and that, facilitators particularly, should model tool v. weapon use. For example, they strongly encouraged getting feedback from all stakeholders before defining problems or solutions and prior to implementing any Lean initiatives. They acknowledged failed Lean and other efficiency initiatives in organizations (e.g., General Motors and Chrysler) and highlighted the importance of buy-in and people as key to the effectiveness and sustainability of Lean culture.

Some themes emerged, including attention to history, value and waste, empowerment, metrics and standardization, critical thinking and problem solving, sustainable culture, and communication. Here, I focus on the sustainable culture, value and waste, and communication themes:

  • Sustainable Culture Theme. Developing rather than imposing a lean culture is essential to successfully implementing Lean. Facilitators noted that Lean implementation fails when there is no buy in and people are not considered: According to the training consultant leading the May event, “Culture is key—the belief in the system.” Lean can be imposed quickly, but to develop a culture takes time and respect for people. Statements made by the training consultants such as “Lean is a suite of tools and a kind of thinking” and “Lean doesn’t work if you use a label and misuse a philosophy—you must consider people” bring home the notion that developing a culture is also developing a belief system and a kind of thinking.
  • Value and Waste Theme. The corporate training consultants identified several tools to help identify value and waste. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is an iterative process that governs Lean activity. It is planning how to do something, executing the task according to that plan, checking the original plan for wasteful steps, and standardizing the steps after all waste has been identified and removed. Plan-Do-Check can take several runs before solidifying the process with Act. Processes are then reviewed on a regular basis to ensure no updates are needed. 5S is more about the work environment, to create visual cues and an organized workspace in order to increase speed and reduce motion. Several tools, including PDCA and 5S, help identify value and waste, but process and value-stream mapping are perhaps the most important because these define work and workflow rather than focusing on organizing the physical work space. PDCA is the guiding process for all activities; it governs the development of processes and value streams and the use of problem solving tools.
    Both value stream mapping and process mapping follow the iterative process of PDCA. Value stream mapping helps visualize all of the steps and processes a product or service undergoes before reaching the customer. According to the training consultants, “Value-stream mapping helps you see the complexity of a job—helps create respect for others’ work.” It is a way to identify waste on a larger scale and defines the workflow, whereas process mapping is for individual tasks.
    According to the training consultants, value and waste are not always easy to see or easy to measure. Using an example of a coffee shop in which a barista chats with customers, they argue that the chatting, while increasing the time needed to make each drink, actually contributes to the atmosphere and experience of the shop itself and therefore adds value. “Sometimes ‘non-value added’ is actually ‘value added’” (June 25). The facilitators are also very clear that there is no one way to do metrics and that metrics and inappropriately assigning waste are two ways in which Lean can be used as a weapon and not as a tool. On the other hand, they argue what cannot be measured cannot be managed.
  • Communication Theme. The communication theme is a subtheme of the other themes. It’s not nearly as explicit as the tools (e.g., PDCA) and concepts (e.g., waste) but does get mentioned often. Lean tools and concepts are identified as communication tools and concepts. For example, according to training consultants, “process mapping is a communication tool” and “metrics are a good communication tool.” Communication is also identified as important to bridging silos and bringing teams and stakeholders together.


The goal of this Lean implementation was to effect cultural change and organizational thinking. Trainings show the development of Lean culture as a lengthy and expensive process, taking people and other resources away from the organization’s work. My observations of these Lean trainings offer only one example of the work of Lean transformation, but it gives us an idea of the time and commitment an organization can put forth to build a particular kind of culture. And if embedding efficiency philosophies is important enough to devote resources on the level shown in my observations, our work in relation to studying organizational work and practices ought to consider efficiency philosophies like Lean important contextual components.

Based on this training, there is opportunity to define TPC value. Communication is valued, but it’s not clear that the trainers are considering there might be important roles for professional communication and usability experts. What is clear is that this is an area for TPCs to take leadership roles if they make their expertise both visible and valued. These trainings suggest that communication will just happen if everyone is engaged in Lean thinking. TPCs know professional and technical communication practices are not simply products of Lean thinking—they need to find a way to tie their expertise to the efficiency management philosophy. The documents discussed below are opportunities to solidify connections between efficiency management philosophy and TPC role and value in a visible way.

Efficiency Documentation

In this section, I analyze two documents developed in efficiency management cultures. Unlike the documentation described above (e.g., one-pagers) these are examples of more permanent documentation that form or describe organizational structure and culture. I include one internal and one customer-facing document. Because these documents are more permanent and visible to the organization, they can more easily be referenced in meetings and performance reviews, thus carrying a certain amount of power. They, and similar types of documents, can be used as sites for establishing and defining value because they are places where work is explained (i.e., made visible) and revisited, where culture and workflow are standardized and fixed (even if only to be revisited). In examining these documents, I illustrate that management philosophy is an important contextual factor that affects both culture and workflow, two areas that affect value work.

Internal: NAVAIR

I begin with a visible internal document used to facilitate work, written for other employees and not for customers. It is a Standard Work Package (SWP) for the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) titled: “Foreign Military Sales/Cooperative Programs Technical Data/Publication Review, and Sanitization/Editing.” It was updated on July 30, 2014. There are two units identified as owning the document, which could help to explain the lengthy title (NAVAIR, 2014, p. 2). It also has two SWP numbers, presumably for each of the co-owners. The two co-owners and the two SWP numbers suggest that at least two numbering systems exist within NAVAIR and that this document is an attempt to bridge two parts of the organization.

The table of contents lists the following sections: Purpose, Input/Suppliers, Owner, Review and Sanitation Requirements, Skills Required, Resources, Work Steps, Completion Requirements, Product Format and Configuration, and Metrics. “Technical data/publication management knowledge” and “publication authoring (document development, editing) knowledge” are two skills listed in the Skills Required section. The Inputs/Suppliers and Work Steps sections explain when and under what circumstances the document is used, who (e.g., department, SME, etc.) or what circumstance initiates the work process, and the steps needed to perform the process.

The purpose of this kind of document is to explain work processes, who should initiate the work processes, resources required, and skills and knowledge required. The SWP shows opportunity to enter skills and strategically explain work or tasks—it is a chance to show how seemingly small tasks require extensive and specialized knowledge (e.g., publication management and document development). On the other hand, the external document described below is an example of customer-facing documentation, which references processes.

External: Xerox

Xerox subscribes to the Lean Six Sigma philosophy in a public way. It can be found on the website and in documents directed to customers and shareholders (e.g., see “Xerox Lean Six Sigma and Quality Go Hand in Hand”). The company publishes case studies of how it has used LSS to solve problems for clients on its website. Some of these case studies involve TPC work. One case study for Aliant Communications is titled “Re-engineered Customer Bills and Print Production Processes Build Loyalty, Boost Marketing and Lower Costs.” The case describes how bills were redesigned to improve customer understanding and how there was no interruption in service. In the case study, two kinds of work are recognized: the bill redesign, completed by “Communication Engineering experts” and the “transition involving technology, staff, and sensitive customer data” (“Reengineered Customer Bills”).

The transition itself is explicitly credited to expertise in Lean Six Sigma. Regarding the bill redesign, the case describes communication engineering experts as “ . . . using disciplined processes and methodologies to analyze the problems with the existing format and carefully develop, test and refine a long list of high-impact improvements” (“Reengineered Customer Bills”). The processes and methodologies referenced may be similar to the internal document above from NAVAIR, which underscores the prominence and strategic importance of these process documents.


Management philosophies inform both workflow and organizational culture. They are underlying principles that inform or govern how workplaces are organized, including how resources will be allocated, how people will work and interact with other roles in the company, and how projects will be developed and implemented. Understanding both how workplace culture is constituted by efficiency management philosophy and that it takes time and effort to effectively incorporate that way of thinking into an organization is key to understanding how value of work is established and affected. By established, I mean understanding how the efficiency philosophies inform workflow and building from that knowledge to fit into, inform, and improve that workflow. TPCs are well positioned as symbolic analysts to shift with organizations and improve them along the way.

While understanding how efficiency management philosophy informs culture and workflow is important for all employees, it is particularly important for TPCs, whose work is often not well understood by management. Documents like the ones described above suggest there is opportunity to define one’s work as part of and valuable to an efficiency culture. And, as Hart and Conklin (2006) suggest, TPCs are often writing such documents. There is also a line between defining one’s work as part of a culture and allowing a culture to define work. TPCs must have some control over how the processes that define their work are written and how these processes fit into larger contexts (e.g., workflows and value streams).

Efficiency can be a double-edged sword—more documents (e.g., processes and performance reviews) and fewer people form management structures in flattened organizations. TPC has an opportunity to create communication processes across entities, but the specialized knowledge work involved needs to be foregrounded and acknowledged. TPC needs to play a proactive role in ensuring this work and their role is acknowledged and researchers need to explicitly gather data about strategies employed in this regard. One way to get this important work acknowledged is to explicitly tie TPC skills and knowledge to the efficiency management philosophy. For example, rhetorical skills (e.g., audience analysis) and usability are necessary for developing and facilitating information across processes in order to keep projects and product development on track.

The bottom line is that technical and professional communication is essential to efficiency management philosophies and the cultures they constitute. It is important to keep all stakeholders up to date on a project, to keep projects moving forward, and to capture and disseminate important project information. TPC is essential for complex user analysis and for developing and documenting solutions. As shown above, communication is considered important to effectively implementing a sustainable Lean culture, but the role of TPCs, or at least the work of professional and technical communication, isn’t necessarily foregrounded.

As others (e.g., Giammona, 2004) have argued, technical communicators need to learn to communicate effectively with management—to make the connection between the organization’s needs and their specialized knowledge and skills—but TPCs may be working hard to communicate with management and getting nowhere if they’re not connecting to management philosophy. Understanding the underlying philosophies can help TPCs to understand not only the language of business for that organization but also how they can effectively navigate and improve it. Acknowledging the effect of efficiency management philosophies on the culture and workflow of the organization can help TPCs understand how (at least in theory) they are empowered by the system. In other words, efficiency management philosophies must inform their system thinking.

There are implications for instructors and researchers as well. As we train students to use mapping theories (e.g., articulation and assemblage and actor-network theory) to understand large and expanding contexts (e.g., organizations, industries, and global networks), we can use efficiency management philosophies as concrete examples of how cultures are constructed in individual systems. Acknowledging these philosophies is essential to understanding and navigating these contexts. Efficiency management philosophies also provide concrete examples for instructors wishing to incorporate system thinking.

When we conduct workplace studies, these philosophies also need to be acknowledged and foregrounded. I have offered one possible strategy here to use structural documents to gain visibility and establish value. Workplace studies may identify and explicitly study other strategies. Practitioners gain from both employing such strategies and sharing their own.

If TPCs continue to struggle to establish value even when tying their knowledge and skills to the philosophies that constitute cultural practices, it is incredibly important that we are studying that as well. Management books and the Lean implementation example above stress employee empowerment and critical thinking, and the trainings also allude to Lean as constituting a sustainable, people-oriented environment versus a controlled environment. The literature, however, supports the potential for an overly controlled environment. In the extreme, Snee’s work (Snee, 2010; Snee & Hoerl, 2009) advocates spreading Lean Six Sigma across organizations and declares that engineers as best qualified for management positions based simply on their understanding of statistics. On the other end of the spectrum, Eric Ries (2011) agues that Lean is flexible and generative enough to use as a framework for start-ups. Where Snee is seeing the potential to rigidly standardize and measure all work, Ries sees the framework as helpful for keeping creative work on track.

Thus far, TPC researchers have made connections between TPC value and workplace culture, suggesting the need to “speak the language of business” (Sullivan et al., 2003, p. 124), particularly when communicating with management. To this important conversation, I add efficiency management philosophy, which informs culture, workflow, and the language of business. As the literature and trainings described in this article suggest, efficiency management philosophies and associated toolkits can be used to impose control or to guide creativity and knowledge work. There is a place for TPCs to ensure they are used to enhance knowledge work, not deskill it.


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Baehr, C. (2015). Complexities in hybridization: Professional identities and relationships in technical communication. Technical Communication, 62, 104–117.

Brady, M. A., & Schreiber, J. (2013). Static to dynamic: Professional identity as inventory, invention, and performance in classrooms and workplaces. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22, 343–362.

Carliner, S. (1996). Evolution-revolution: Toward a strategic perception of technical communication. Technical Communication, 43, 266–276.

Dubinsky, J. M. (2015). Products and processes: Transition from “Product Documentation to… Integrated Technical Content.” Technical Communication, 62, 118–134.

Giammona, B. (2004). The future of technical communication: How innovation, technology, information management, and other forces are shaping the future of the profession. Technical Communication, 51, 349–366.

Hart, H., & Conklin, J. (2006). Toward a meaningful model of technical communication. Technical Communication, 53, 395–415.

Johnson-Eilola, J. (2004). Relocating the value of work: Technical communication in a post industrial age. In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Central Works in Technical Communication (pp. 175–192). New York: Oxford University Press. (Original work published in 1996).

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Kimball, M. A. (2015b). Training and education: Technical communication managers speak out. Technical Communication, 62, 135–145.

Liker, J. K. (2004). The Toyota way: 14 management principles from the world’s greatest manufacturer. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Liker, J. K., & Convis, G. L. (2012). The Toyota way to Lean leadership: Achieving and sustaining excellence through leadership development. New York: McGraw-Hill.

NAVAIR. (2014). Foreign military sales/cooperative programs technical data/publication review, and sanitization/editing. (SWP6851-009/SWP6600-010). Retrieved from http://www.fdesolutions.com/san/swp-6851-009-010_7-10-2014.pdf

Redish, J. (2010). Technical communication and usability: Intertwined strands and mutual influences. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 53(3), 191–201.

Ries, E. (2011). The Lean startup: How today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses: Crown Business.

Snee, R. D. (2010). Lean Six Sigma — getting better all the time. International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, 1(1), 9–29.

Snee, R. D., & Hoerl, R. W. (2009). Turning to service sectors: Application of Lean Six Sigma should be widespread. Industrial Engineer, October, 37–40.

Sullivan, D. L., Martin, M. S., & Anderson, E. R. (2003). Moving from the periphery: Conceptions of ethos, reputation, and identity for the technical communicator. In T. Kynell-Hunt, T. & Savage, G. J. (Eds.), Power and legitimacy in technical communication: The historical and contemporary struggle for professional status (pp. 115–136). Amityville, NY: Baywood.

Edwards, P., & Wajcman, J. (2005). The politics of working life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Xerox. (nd). “Re-engineered customer bills and print production processes build loyalty, boost marketing and lower costs.” Retrieved from http://www.xerox.com/downloads/usa/en/gdo/casestudies/gdo_casestudy_aliant.pdf

Xerox. (nd). “Xerox Lean Six Sigma and quality go hand in hand.” Retrieved from https://www.xerox.com/about-xerox/citizenship/news/lean-six-sigma-quality/enus.html

About the Author

Dr. Joanna Schreiber is Assistant Professor of Professional and Technical Communication in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University. Her research examines the intersection of technical communication and efficiency management philosophies, including implications for project management. Her work has also been published in Technical Communication Quarterly. She is available at jschreiber@georgiasouthern.edu.

Manuscript received 14 December 2015, revised 17 March 2016; accepted 5 August 2016.

Appendix A

August Lean Training Agenda

[Insert Building Name] (unless otherwise stated)

Monday, August 13

Lean Implementation Leader and Facilitator Training Groups

9:00 Welcome, Review Discussion and Q&A

10:15 Socratic Questioning

11:00 Exercise

11:30 Lunch in [Insert Building Name] Cafeteria

12:15 Metrics

1:00 Exercise and Report Out

2:45 Knowledge Folders

4:30 Debrief and Wrap-up

Conclude by 5:00

Tuesday, August 14

Lean Facilitator Training Group

8:00 Metrics for projects

9:45 Basic Facilitation Skills

11:00 Reflection

Conclude by 11:15

Campus Session

11:30 Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust

Lean Implementation Leaders

1:00 Leading change in your area

1:30 Leadership Standardized work

2:00 Kaizen Process

2:15 Exercise

Conclude by 3:15

Appendix B

Lean Six Sigma Glossary1

A3 problem solving/A3 reports – A3 problem solving or reporting is getting all of the information you need down on a single page, often including graphics.

5S – Sort-Straighten-Shine-Standardize-Sustain is about making the work environment visual and organized in order to reduce injury, error, and wasted effort.

Gemba – A gemba is walking through a work environment to gather information about what’s happening on the ground.

Kaizen – A Kaizen is a concentrated, problem-solving event where team members come together to focus solely on solving a particular problem.

Lean – Lean is an efficiency philosophy focused on speed and agility. It differs from mass production in that it does not focus on trying to make the most in the least amount of time, but trying to make exactly the right amount to meet customer needs before shifting to meet different needs, reducing wasted steps and wasted resources.

Lean Six Sigma – Lean Six Sigma is a hybrid of Lean and Six Sigma, using tools from both. There is no specific standard form of Lean Six Sigma.

PDCA – Plan-Do-Check-Act is an interitive process for uncovering waste and determining value. It is used in many Lean environments. It is the process of continuous improvement. Other variations include DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control).

Six Sigma – Six Sigma is an efficiency philosophy focused on quality, on eliminating defects. Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation and complexity.

Value stream mapping – VSM brings together step to create a product or product family usually in a flowchart. The document also includes information about processes, material flows, and information flows.

  1. These terms are not an exhaustive list of the concepts and tools associated with Lean and Lean Six Sigma. These definitions were derived from:
    George, M. O. (2010). The lean six sigma guide to doing more with less: Cut costs, reduce waste, and lower your overhead. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
    Liker, J. K. (2004). The Toyota way: 14 management principles from the world’s greatest manufacturer. New York: McGraw-Hill.