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Lean management techniques are most commonly associated with manufacturing and logistics, and not with collections of historic artifacts or centuries-old artworks. Is there a place for the new lean leadership style in institutions that are, by their very nature, conservative?

The answer is an emphatic “Yes,” according to presenters at the Museums and the Web Conference. Lean management relies on bottom-up processes rather than top-down methods, with the goal of maximizing productivity while minimizing waste. It relies on feedback to learn what works, continuously testing and improving processes for best performance. For museums, this means listening to patrons to discover how they use the museum, the museum’s website, and the museum’s other outreach efforts. Senior management solicits input from “boots on the ground” staffers to gain insight into what’s popular with patrons and what patrons tell staffers informally. With this kind of knowledge, directors can re-shape the museum’s programs to fit the demands of the market, without wasting resources on exhibits that the market doesn’t want.

Working in tandem with lean management is the agile workplace. The agile framework builds on incremental successes, and responds to changes in the real world rather than following a plan that may be based on false assumptions. For museums, this means testing a small program, measuring its success, and building on that success with a larger program. It means that new information should be acted on quickly, and staffers should be empowered to self-organize into teams to implement the changes required by the new information. Like lean management, the agile workplace aims for greater efficiencies and therefore lower costs.

Translating lean, agile management into the physical realities of a museum can be a challenge for facilities managers. Bricks and mortar don’t respond quickly to market demands and new knowledge. Nevertheless, there are ways to make interior spaces more responsive, adaptive, and efficient. One is high-density mobile storage. If a museum patron survey demands fewer artworks or artifacts on display, then the surplus has to be stored, but building out new climate-controlled storage is impractical and costly. A mobile storage system increases storage capacity by condensing shelving area, without expanding the existing storage footprint. Shelving compartments can be customized to fit collections of all shapes and sizes, and storage surfaces can be treated with non-interactive coatings to preserve items in their original condition. Storage space is used with maximum efficiency, reflecting the goals of the agile workplace.

Museums may be dealing with the past, but their management style can be thoroughly up to date. Mobile storage fits right in with the needs of the lean and agile workplace.


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