Learning to See Office Waste

by JoeWhite 25. March 2010 04:46

Lean is the constant pursuit of identifying and eliminating waste and there are many different tools that Lean practitioners use to accomplish this goal, but they all align with the one guiding principle of identifying and eliminating waste. We will discuss many types of waste in upcoming posts, but we should lay some ground rules and agree on some basic principles before going too deep.

First, let’s agree on how to define waste. I will give you the accepted definition, but your input would make this a much richer exploration, so please respond by adding to my definition or challenging it as you see fit. Primarily, waste is the opposite of value. Of course, this leads to the question of what is value. Since value may be a little simpler to get our minds around, let’s first define it as anything the customer is willing to pay for. Think of value as something that changes the form, fit, or function of a tangible product that the customer buys, or any service that someone is willing to pay for. Ultimately, this means that waste is any activity that doesn’t change the form, fit, function or value of the good or service. 

Next, we should discuss waste elimination as a philosophy. I contend that total waste elimination is a lofty goal that can never fully be achieved and is somewhat nebulous and idealistic. It may even be irrelevant. However, we should never accept waste that we see and we should be in a constant battle to eliminate it. 

Finally, the relationship between work and waste should be highlighted. Virtually all waste is work, but the opposite is certainly not true. Just because we classify an activity as something that the customer is unwilling to pay for doesn’t mean that it isn’t work. In fact, the very reason we strive to eliminate it is because work is required to perform the activity, but isn’t rewarded by the customer. We must always be mindful of this and be careful how we present our findings as we search for waste. People often take offense when an activity that they exert great amounts of energy to complete, is classified as wasteful. An employee who takes pride in his work will often feel stressed, angry or hurt at such an assessment. Handling these situations with empathy and coaching can make the difference in whether or not someone is willing to help us eliminate wasteful activities or not. After all, they are more than likely tired at the end of their work day, even if the customer is unwilling to pay for their activities. Being sensitive to this and helping employees understand how to eliminate waste without disrespecting their effort will help get everyone on board with our waste elimination efforts and maintain a healthy sense of respect.

This post will be followed by 30 or so more over the next few months which will deep-dive into different forms of waste in the office as well as suggestions on how to remove them.  Each post is meant to teach you how to see that particular form of waste.  We would love to hear examples for each from your environment one as well as what you did about it.



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Categories: Lean | Lean Office | Office Waste | Value

No, you are not special!

by JoeWhite 22. March 2010 15:30
No, your business isn’t different!  Yes, Lean does work in your industry!

There seems to be a consistent theme that resonates with most organizations when they are first exposed to Lean philosophies and tools. Most people seem to think that their organization is different, unique or special in some way that will prevent the Lean concepts from working or limit their impact. 

A study of the various change models and philosophies, has led me to accept the fact that Lean practitioners (and change agents of all types) bear a significant burden of convincing others that change is needed and that it will be worth the effort. Deep down, it frustrates me a little, but I accept it as part of the change agent role and realize that without the need for paradigm shifts, my chosen profession would be equally unneeded. 

I suppose that the burden of proof is what frustrates me. After all of the literature, conferences, articles and success stories that should have long ago removed any doubt that the Lean tools reduce waste, streamline processes and improve the competitive edge, shouldn’t it be up to the individual in doubt to disprove them? Countless capital requests have been rejected because the decision makers lack the vision and understanding to relate the impact of improved flow, velocity and responsiveness to the bottom line. Shouldn’t we require the submission of a capital request to continue functioning with the current level of waste instead of seeking approval to eliminate it? Shouldn’t doubters be required to prove Lean won’t work rather than change agents being required to prove that it will?

I can’t think of a single industry that the Lean tools cannot transform (if you can, please post a rebuttal in the comments and we will have some good - and friendly - debate over the question). Continuous process improvement leading to less waste and frustration is a core belief of the Lean practitioner. How can one argue with this basic principle? Didn’t it lead to the invention of the wheel? I suppose it is not so much the Lean principles that are hard for people to accept, but the application of these principles that doesn’t always seem obvious.

Don’t get me wrong, every Lean implementation is indeed different and special, but what must be tailored is the technique of applying the principles, not the principles or tools themselves. With that said, I will wake up Monday morning, get on a plane and go back to the constant process of introducing “new” concepts, convincing, convincing, sales, convincing and implementing change. This is the joy of being a Lean practitioner, and even though it can be frustrating at times, I am passionate about the journey and can’t imagine doing anything else.   

So, if someone in your organization comes to you and suggests an improvement idea or that the organization is in the process of launching a Lean transformation process, please research before you respond with a list of reasons why it won’t work. Remember that there are probably already a dozen or so examples of how it works in your industry and if there aren’t, you may just create a competitive advantage for your organization. If you approach it with an open mind, everyone will learn something along the way. You may even prove that your company is special and different…In the creative ways you find to implement Lean.


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Categories: Continuous Improvement | Deployment | Lean | Lean Office




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