Category Archives: Quantifying waste

Engagement & CI Correlation

In one of last year’s posts we noted that, while enterprise engagement has emerged as a key objective in today’s business world, a surprising number of organizations have no formalized engagement strategy.

At this year’s Engagement World Conference in Galveston, this fact was once again recognized, along with several other connections between enterprise engagement and Continuous Improvement (CI).

For one, an ad-hoc approach is almost never effective.

Whether attempting to engage a workforce or drive continuous improvement, a formalized plan with clearly-stated objectives and measures is required.

Similarly, without the buy-in and support of top management, engagement and improvement efforts alike are bound to fail… they will not become the “cultural way,” and instead will simply peter-out as priorities shift.

Another correlation is the importance of quantification. Just as a CI project requires us to quantify waste and the gains our effort will generate, a successful engagement initiative will include the calculation of an anticipated return on investment or ROI once objectives are achieved.

Finally, just as ISO 9001 helped bring-about the use of more standard procedures in CI, ISO 10018 will now encourage organizations to standardize their engagement efforts. 

As noted in our previous post, the emergence of these new standards brings into focus both process improvement and quality people management/engagement, both of which are necessary to achieve and sustain high levels of quality and performance.



Free Engagement ROI Calculator

The Enterprise Engagement Alliance recently announced that their Enterprise Engagement Academy has created a free ROI Calculator that is available to any organization at no cost (see link below).

The tool can be used to track the potential return-on-investment of an engagement initiative, and also provides a report showing the estimated impact of improving employee engagement.

According to Allan Schweyer, Curriculum Director for the Enterprise Engagement Academy and founder of the TMLU professional learning platform, the ROI Calculator is based on “very conservative estimates of the impact of lower and higher levels of engagement created by the Center for Talent Solutions.”

Full article…ROI calculator

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.


In a recent CI discussion on LinkedIn, Rob Kooijmans, a quality manager in the Netherlands, referenced the importance of quantifying waste and opportunities for improvement.

“The best way to know the strengths and weaknesses of your organization is to get good insight in your cost of non-quality (CONQ),” he said.

As noted in several previous posts, we certainly agree.

Bill Conway always said, “At least 50% of improvement is working on the right things.”

Thus a “waste and opportunity” search is key. We must identify waste and then act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results – i.e., the “right things.” Once this quantification step has been completed, it is much easier to gain the buy-in of all stakeholders – leadership and colleagues alike –  because it is easier for everyone to see what can be gained (or lost!).

“The biggest reason why CONQ is so important is that it is expressed in money – and money is the universal language all managers and company owners understand. If you need to convince management to invest in your team and to invest in quality in general , you need to be able to substantiate the benefits,” Kooijmans said.

We have found that when organizations “identify and quantify the waste,” people are able to more readily recognize the best opportunities for improvement, allocate resources, and then set effective priorities and time-frames.


Silo Treatment?

Bill Conway always said, “The biggest waste is found in the interfaces and interstices.”

Or, said another way, the waste is found at the seams of the value stream as it crosses  different organizational boundaries, which are often referenced as the “silos” in which many of us work.

Some time ago, we were involved in an exercise in streamlining office work and had set up an order processing operation that had lots of obvious waste analogous to the sort commonly found in office processes. The simulation was conducted a number of times, usually in one large room with different departments in different areas of the room.

Participants were always able to identify large amounts of waste, because it really is much easier to see waste in someone else’s process than in one’s own. The simulation helped participants to see the waste and then to draw analogies to opportunities they had overlooked in their own work. So light bulbs would go on and participants would generally be able to redesign the process to increase throughput up to ten-fold!

Then one day, the training facilities were different: no large room, just one mid-sized room and a number of breakout rooms.

Even more realistic, we all thought… the Credit Checkers were in one room, the Order Processors in another, and so on.

But when we reconvened to debrief, everyone seemed oddly comfortable with the whole process they had been executing. They identified little things they could improve within their small group, but they missed the elephant in the room — perhaps because it was in next room, or rather the hallway where no one owned it.

As Bill always said, the big waste was in the “interfaces and interstices… and, as noted in a previous post,  “It is easiest to think outside the box, when you are from outside the box” (or silo!).

Steps for Quantifying Waste

Noting that at least 50% of improvement is working on the right things, our previous post shared insights on “why” identifying and quantifying waste within our organizations is so important.

Now, the question is “how” to do it…

The first step is to identify areas of waste, many of which may have previously gone unnoticed. This step often requires the use of historical financial and operational data, and also that we think “outside of the box” when examining our work processes. Involving people at all levels, and people from cross-functional areas, can help the team look at each problem or bottleneck without bias.

Once problems are uncovered, review how each affects the four forms of waste:

  • Lost sales or opportunities (typically the largest waste)
  • Material costs
  • Capital costs
  • Lost time

If the problem causes delays, think through and estimate the form of waste that the delay results in.   Does it increase capital such as inventory or receivables?  Does it delay sales and revenue?  Does it cost you customers and future business? Does it require additional people time?

Keep in mind that many problems will affect more than one of the four forms of waste.

For example, excess inventory not only ties up capital, but may increase the number of people who need to manage it, the warehouse costs to store it, and the probability of scrapping All these factors can be reasonably estimated with some historical data and getting close enough to the work.

Next we must quantify the impact of each problem, recognizing that some assumptions and estimates will probably have to be made.  Try to document a range that you are pretty confident about.

Finally we can “do the math” to prioritize the improvement projects we’ll undertake first. Key criteria will be the overall potential savings (i.e., the problems creating the most waste), and the estimated time-frame for implementation.

These two determining factors are important, and sometimes it is better to opt for a smaller “return” if the project will involve fewer complexities and a significantly shorter time-frame. We’ll take a closer look at this perspective in our next post.

Are You Working on the Right Things?

At least 50% of improvement is working on the right things. Organizations that are able to engage people in making good, fact-based decisions about what to work on and then execute with laser focus reap huge gains.

An opportunity search is key.

That means that we must identify and act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results. In other words, we must identify and then quantify the waste.

Quantifying the waste helps in three specific ways:

  1. It helps you distinguish between the big‐hitters and the nice‐to‐have improvements so you focus on the most important opportunities first.
  2. It makes the organization aware of the cost of a delay in tackling a ‘big‐hitter’.  If a problem is wasting $5 million a year, every week of delay is wasting nearly $100,000, so the organization wants to make sure nothing slows this improvement effort.
  3. Quantifying the waste enables you to have more meaningful discussions with other parts of the organization whose support you need to change the processes that cause the waste.

Now that we’ve identified “why” quantifying the waste and working on the right things is so important, our next post will focus on some of the best ways to go about doing so.

Fear of Failure?

Waste within an organization often hides, and people are frequently surprised when the realize how much of it actually exists. The waste falls into four categories: time, capital, material, and lost opportunities.

During recent discussions with our Partners in Improvement, it was unanimously agreed that, in order to develop a culture of Continuous Improvement, people throughout an organization must feel free to try new things, challenge current methods, and express new ideas without fear.  Otherwise, the organization will likely miss out on many opportunities for improvement or growth, thus increasing what is typically the biggest form of waste — lost opportunities.

In order to develop and sustain a culture of Continuous Improvement, leaders must drive-out fear so that the people closest to the work will approach their jobs with the above-mentioned curiosity… with a mindset of continuously finding new ways to improve, and with a mindset that it’s okay to challenge the status-quo and to make mistakes.

In a recent article,  Career Coach Jan Johnston Osburn outlined several indicators that an organization is being ruled by fear and, consequently, missing out on opportunities. This list included:

  1. New ideas don’t pop-up very often
  2. The office is silent when the boss is around
  3. Meetings take place before the “real meetings” so people can make sure they don’t say the wrong things in front of the boss
  4. Too much consensus
  5. People hide mistakes and play the “blame game”

The article goes on to suggest that fear within an organization  slows down progress, causes hesitation, reduces productivity, and leads to stress.

“Fear-trodden employees hold your business back,” Johnson Osburn says. “If you have any fear in your organization, employee potential is drastically reduced.”

To further support this perspective, a quote from Thomas J. Watson of I.B.M. fame: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”


How to Make Work More Value-Added

valueadded22Given that value-added work is “the work our customers would be willing to pay for if they knew what we were doing,” the core value- add of an organization’s leadership is to study and improve the system of work and to maximize the amount of work that is value-added.

By using the insights and information of people doing the work and knowledge about improvement tools and methods, a manager can improve the system of work so that everyone’s performance improves, more value is created, and the organization becomes stronger and more profitable.

Here are four ideas to increase the portion of resources that are directed at value adding activities:

  1. Work On The Bottlenecks – When we work on many things that have a small effect, we will have a small impact. The way to increase value most substantially is to work on the bottleneck, or constraint. If the bottleneck can be widened even just a little, it provides a pure increase in value.
  2. Increase Alignment With What Customers Truly Value – One of the biggest wastes is when the products or services we offer do not align perfectly with the customers’ needs and values. Errors are possible in two directions.
    • Bundling a feature into the product or service that the customers do not really need or want.
    • Overlooking ways we could leverage our capabilities to solve a problem that the customers may not even have articulated to themselves.
  3. Get At The Root Causes – Instead of  working on problems and symptoms, drill-down to root causes so that lasting solutions can be found.
  4. Eliminate The Non Value Adding Administrative Work – A great deal of time in most organizations is spent on emails, meetings, and reports that do not produce additional value for the customers or the organization. By taking proactive steps such as reducing inbox clutter or introducing meeting effectiveness practices, an organization can reduce waste and quickly boost people’s capacity to perform more value-added work.

By tackling these four things — the bottleneck, understanding and alignment with what the customer really values, the root causes and the non-value adding administrative work — any organization should be able to greatly increase the value content of the work.

Read the full article…

Working on the Right Things Part 2: Identifying & Quantifying Waste

nowlaterIn a recent post we discussed the many daily decision we all make with respect to “what we’ll work on next…”

As referenced in that post, Bill Conway always said, “At least 50% of improvement is working on the right things.”

Organizations that are able to engage people in making good, fact-based decisions about what to work on and then execute with laser focus reap huge gains.

An opportunity search is key.

That means that we must identify and act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results. This implies that those opportunities not selected are clearly inferior — but this might not always be the case.

And, if so, should we work on all of them? If not, then how many? Which ones in particular?

These can be tough questions to answer. 

We have found that most organizations need help to determine the best course of action to take; or in other words, to “identify and quantify the waste.”

It is only then that people will be able to truly determine whether some options are better than others or if all of the options are good; it is only then that people can determine the best opportunities for improvement, and then set priorities and time-frames.