Tag Archives: eliminating waste

The Ohno Circle: Watch & Learn!


The most important responsibility a manager has is to continually improve the system of work so his or her people can work more effectively and efficiently, producing higher quality and greater value for the customers. We surface and eliminate the waste in a variety of ways, asking people close to the work for their input, studying how other companies have achieved improvements, bringing in consultants and studying journals.

However, the most effective and least expensive process improvement method may be the simple method of looking and thinking about what you see.

For example, a small team of professionals was asked to determine how to fix the problems with a multi-million-dollar robotics line. This robotic line was designed to prevent stock-outs and excess parts inventory on the assembly line by using bar-coded totes, an overhead conveyor belt, and scanners and switches to send a new tote of replenishment parts to exactly the right workstation.

When a tote was emptied, it was placed on the return conveyor and when the return scanner read the barcode, the tote number would be captured. The scanner would record the emptied tote numbers, and every three minutes this list would be transmitted to the inventory software. Inventory would be decremented for workstations that had been assigned that tote number and a replenishment order would pop up at the material handling station.

The system failed so miserably that the supervisors had to take a complete physical inventory at the start of every shift to correct the inventory records.

The improvement team spent several weeks conducting interviews and studying the floor layout diagram, the process flows, and the computer code to crack a mystery that, as it turned out, could have solved in 20 minutes using the ‘Ohno Circle’ method.

As you may know, Taiichi Ohno is credited for much of the thinking behind the Toyota Production System, and he invented a novel method of making improvements. He would go to where the work was being done, draw a chalk circle on the floor, and stand in it.

He would stand for hours, watching and thinking about what he was seeing. He would look for what was getting in the way of people creating value and he would study the situation to determine what was causing it. This gave him the insight he needed to make lasting improvements.

Of course, the team of problem solvers had toured the line, but while they had looked, they had not watched. If one or more of them had stood in one place long enough to watch carefully, they would have seen the returned totes drop off of the return conveyor and nest one inside another. The next minute, they would have seen someone take the newly dropped empty tote from the top of the stack and use it for the next order. The material handler would key in the tote number, the new workstation destination, and the part numbers being sent there and send the tote on its way — often less than a minute after the tote had dropped off the return conveyor.

That is, the observers would quickly have realized that the tote re-use process was too fast for the information flow — which reported the list of emptied totes only once every three minutes.

Whenever a tote was reused before the list was sent, the inventory of the new workstation would be decremented instead of the inventory at the workstation that had returned the tote. With this insight, the problem was easily solved — change the frequency of the systems updates or change the return tote process so that no totes were refilled within 3 minutes of dropping off the belt. The latter was the easier solution, and a poka-yoke was quickly implemented to make it impossible for a recent tote to be selected and keyed in.

A little bit of watching can tell us a lot.

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.

How to Nurture the Ability to Identify Waste

Continuing the theme of our previous post — which stressed the importance of focusing on “identifying and eliminating waste” rather than simply focusing on “improvement” — it is important to encourage people at all levels to look for the waste that is hidden within their work processes.

But people tend to be risk averse, and it is often uncomfortable and difficult for most to acknowledge waste.

Yet identify it and acknowledge it they must, before they can envision a solution for it. Therefore, senior management needs to nurture the practice if it is to take hold within the organization. Until an organization recognizes the waste for what it is, there will be no full court press to eliminate the underlying problems, and no breakthrough improvements.

How do you nurture the ability to recognize the waste embedded in your business processes?

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 come from “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.

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…

Continuous Improvement & Hidden Waste

wasteicebergContinuous improvement is all about identifying, quantifying, and eliminating waste.

While it’s fairly easy to define waste — i.e., material waste, waste of capital or time, or lost opportunities — finding it can often be more difficult.

Here are some clear examples of waste that is relatively easy to find, and other types of waste that are “less visible.”

Most Visible Waste Less Visible Waste
Dissatisfied customers
Excess inventory
Excess capital
Lost gross margin
Reduced market presence
Excess customer service cost

Just like the beneath-the-surface portion of an iceberg, the “less visible” waste is usually bigger and more costly than the waste we can easily see.