Category Archives: waste walks

A Different Take on Waste Walks

As you are likely aware, a “Waste Walk” is a planned visit to where work is being performed  (often referred to as gemba) to observe what’s happening and to note the waste. In many organizations Waste Walks have primarily taken place in manufacturing, warehouse or shop-floor environments; and certainly there is much to be gained by “going to gemba” in these areas.

However, while Waste Walks are most often put into practice within the above-mentioned areas, many that take place in other organizational areas have also proven to be extremely worthwhile, as we discussed with our Partners in Improvement groups.

For example, a supply chain management company used these walks as a way of solving a recurring order-processing problem that had become a hot issue with one of their mid-sized customer locations. They involved a number of their team members, including representatives from management, customer service and their CI group. It worked out so well that they now do Waste Walks at customer sites on a regular basis. Not only do the teams solve problems and make design changes in ways that benefit both parties, but their relationships with these customers have also grown significantly, which has boosted revenue and customer retention.

Based on the success of gemba or Waste Walks at customer locations, the company has recently started conducting them with suppliers, and anticipates similar positive results.

Other companies send their employees to observe how their own customers use their products and to look for complexities, errors, of troubles that the products cause the customers. Having done that, the employees are able to look at their own work through a different lens, and see more opportunities for Improvement.

In the retail sector, one company conducted a series of Waste Walks during their inventory season, watching and documenting the process at different stores. While some best-practices were certainly documented during the Waste Walks at the top performing sites, the greatest gains were made during Waste Walks at the stores in which performance was traditionally mediocre, where, as a result of the initiative, average cycle time was cut in half!

Even though Waste Walks are used less frequently in areas where the work is “less visible,” such as administrative offices, purchasing departments, and R&D labs, some of the greatest opportunities reside in these places. When the work is less visible, the Waste Walk team needs to ask many more questions of the people doing the work in order to learn what they are doing and to gain valuable insights

During one of our Partners discussions, CI leaders agreed with this perspective and identified some best practices for conducting a waste walk in an office environment, which included:

  • Communicating in advance with the people whose work will be reviewed, making sure to let them know the intent is not to take on a “big brother” approach, but rather to interact and learn from the workers themselves —the people closest to the work!
  • Communicating openly and in a “two-way” fashion during the waste walk. Administrative work can not really be understood by simply observing; the waste walk team must ask questions and engage in a bi-directional dialog with the office workers and thus learn about obstacles and challenges faced by those workers.
  • Focusing on the process rather than the tools. It can be easy to conclude that the best opportunities for improvement involve investing in new IT solutions or software programs.
  • Quantifying the opportunities for improvement and following-up with the office personnel afterward to share what was learned and to discuss specific steps for improvement.
  • Measuring gains and celebrating wins!

Study Your Work & The Work of Others to Promote Internal Change

Continuing to analyze the concept that “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, today’s focus is on what is arguably the most important source of that knowledge — your own value stream, which includes your organization’s work as well as the work of others.

What is going on in technology? What methods are others trying out? How is it working for them? How could it work for you?

In most organizations, there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they
often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. Similarly,  those with the broader perspective and the influence do not really understand how the work as it is done today well enough to arrive at the ‘Eureka!’ moment.

One of the fundamentals of the Lean approach is that you must “go to the work.” Don’t just talk about the results or listen to people talk about the work — go to the work (a.k.a. Gemba).

Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved, and effective “change” will be difficult or impossible to implement.

Focusing on Waste Part 3: Three Ways to Find it!

Completing our series of posts about focusing on waste, people often ask how they might best nurture the ability to recognize the waste that is undoubtedly embedded in business processes.

Here are 3 proven methods:

  • Constant questioning. Ask yourself and everyone else if you would need this if everything were right, and right the first time.
  • It sometimes helps to bring in outsiders to help you look for waste, because it is easiest to think “outside the box” if you are “outside the box.” Customers and suppliers or people from adjacent processes may challenge assumptions we don’t even realize we are making.
  • Benchmarking internally, within the industry, and in different
    industries can also raise questions and help you recognize waste
    that you have overlooked before.

If you can take a path of searching for WASTE rather than just improvements, regardless of whether you already have a solution, you can avoid the “road of diminishing returns,” and instead delve into the underlying causes to make truly important improvements.

Focusing on Waste vs. Improvement?

Ted Williams was considered the greatest hitter in baseball….

His .406 batting average for the 1941 season is legendary, and he finished his playing career with a .344 overall average, 521 home runs, and a 0.482 on-base percentage — the highest of all time.

A newspaper reporter once said to Ted, “Gee Mr. Williams, you’re the best batter the game has ever seen — you must be a great student of hitting.” Ted replied, “No sir, I’m a great student of pitching!”

Just as there is a difference between focusing on hitting versus pitching in baseball, there is a big difference between focusing on “improvement” versus “waste” in the Continuous Improvement arena.

One of the key differences in Conway Management’s Right Way To Manage© approach has always been a focus on the waste, as opposed to simply improvement.

What’s the difference?

Most of the big waste is hidden in plain sight — long-standing business practices that compensate for a problem that has
not yet been solved. The root causes of the problem have not been addressed, and compensating steps have been built in to avoid bad outcomes such as poor quality or lost productivity.

It’s the understanding of what waste is, and how to search for it, that makes all the difference… which will be our focus in the next few posts.

Challenge to CI: Focus on Improvement vs. Waste

When initially beginning to practice Continuous Improvement (CI), people are typically flooded with ideas and opportunities to improve.  Training in CI helps some team members to see opportunities they hadn’t noticed before, and others bring forth ideas that had occurred to them over time and that they had been keeping “on the shelf.”

But eventually, even the most richly-laden shelves will go bare
and all the “low-hanging fruit” will be harvested.

This scenario, which is a big challenge to Continuous Improvement, plays out when people embark on a search for solutions or ideas for improvement rather than a search for WASTE. To sustain an improvement effort, and to make the most significant gains, it is critically-important to focus on the waste, as opposed to simply on ideas for ‘improvement’.

What’s the difference?

Most of the big waste is hidden in plain sight — long-standing business practices that compensate for a problem that has
not yet been solved. The root causes of the problem have not been addressed, and compensating steps have been built in to avoid bad outcomes such as poor quality or lost productivity.

For example, a financial services company sends every transaction to “QC” for inspection and corrections; inventories are built-up just in case, and long production runs are scheduled to avoid long set-up times. Each of these is compensating for and masking an underlying problem that has not been addressed.

In fact, whenever we find ourselves trying to find the best
trade-off between two evils, we are most-likely masking
underlying root causes which, if addressed, would lead to
breakthrough business improvements. Nearly all the breakthroughs
of the past forty years have been the result of seeing waste and addressing the underlying causes where the competitors simply saw standard operating procedures.