Nov 25 2014

Anyone who has worked in Lean or anywhere near it will be familiar with the seven wastes; Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-production, Over-processing & Defects (TIMWOOD). One of the things that I see people forget or ignore is the fact that all waste can never be eliminated, and in fact, in some cases when one waste is remove, another is added.

This may seem odd, but it can actually make sense if you look at it holistically; using systems thinking. By reducing over-production, we may increase waiting, at least initially. By decreasing motion in one process by moving the location of the parts closer to the technician or operator, it may increase the transportation of those parts by the person who delivers them.

Sure, the value added component of the work is improved by the person doing it, but the person delivering the parts may have to transport them further. Overall this is usually a benefit as it is the ability to move the product down the line that is improved or the ability to do so faster & thus the overall lead time reduced, but the total waste or cost to the organisation could be the same or even slightly higher; if we only look at these two elements.

When we look higher up, at the entire system we will most likely find that several of these examples will actually reduce the overall lead time sufficiently to balance the additional transportation time/distance/effort. We look for waste at an individual/process level, but we should consider the entire system. Removing activity in one area saves time & effort, but it may increase it somewhere else.

Final example – real world (but vague in specific detail to protect the organisation) – an organisation I worked with had removed an entire function as they deemed the work non-value adding, and looking individually at that function, it was. There was a “simpler” option for the “customer” of this function, at least on the face of it. In reality, the loss of this function caused the customer function to perform much of the activity that their internal supplier previously had done, and in doing so, had to add even more functionality into their process to compensate. Overall the organisation was wasting much more time & effort than the handful of people in that function cost.

Saving time/effort/money in one area of a business to reduce waste often adds waste &/or complexity (AKA Waste) to another – think bigger than the area you are focusing on – what other affects of your planned “improvement” exist? Will the overall benefit to the organisation be better than the current? Will you be adding more waste elsewhere by removing waste locally?

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