Tag Archives: identifying waste

Waste Walk Perspective

As noted in our previous post, gemba or waste walks are effective ways of identifying waste and opportunities for improvement. Generally speaking, efforts-to-date 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.

For example, during one waste walk n a manufacturing area, those involved focused on process constraints, and identified several bottlenecks and, ultimately, solutions that increased overall capacity; in another similar setting the gemba team was able to separate value added work from that which was non-value added, and then created data images to document the changes they believed would maximize the former and eliminate the latter.

Taking a slightly different twist, one manufacturer’s gemba team pre-selects a theme each month, such as safety or process inefficiencies, and during the walk they search for activities or process steps that impact the theme.

However, while waste walks are most often put into practice within the above mentioned areas, many that take place in other organizational areas have proven most worthwhile.

For example, a supply chain management company used waste 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 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 go back to their own gemba 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 gemba or 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.

Identify Waste by Going to Gemba

identifying waste

As you may know, “Genba,” which has been popularized as “Gemba,” is a Japanese word meaning “the real place.”

The word is widely used in Japan, where detectives frequently refer to a crime scene as genba, and Japanese TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting from genba/gemba.

In the business realm, gemba refers to the place where work is done and value created. For example, in manufacturing gemba is typically the factory floor, but looking further afield it can be any location — a construction site,
administrative office, or sales bullpen — where the actual work is being done.

When it comes to Continuous Improvement, problems are most visible in these areas, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to gemba. If your objective is to identify waste, there is no substitute for ‘going to the work’ and there are things that can only be learned by going there and watching the work with a purpose.

Thus a gemba walk, or waste walk, is an activity that takes management and other stakeholders to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities for improvement; to observe the work where the work is being done, and to identify what goes wrong or could go wrong, how often it does or could go wrong, and the associated consequences. The waste walk is designed to help everyone understand the value stream and its problems; it is not to review results and make superficial comments.

Aside from identifying waste and the specific gains made during waste walks, there are also higher-level benefits associated with the practice:

  • Engagement: Since people at all levels are involved, and since the waste walks have proved to be an effective method of detecting hard-to-identify problems as well as solutions which improve both productivity and day-to-day quality of work life, a noticeable increase in workforce engagement is a common by-product. People like it when problems they have known about for a long time are finally solved!
  • Trust: Company leaders are able to establish greater levels of trust with the people closest to the work, by showing interest and seeking the opinions and input of those doing the work.
  • Learn the Truth: Going to gemba enables leaders to identify reality versus what they think (or hope) is happening. Waste walks help leaders to question their assumptions as well.
  • Better Ideas: When the people who are doing the work or executing the process every day start talking, thinking and feeling empowered, the ideas really flow…
  • Ask the Right Questions: as suggested in an earlier post, questions are often the “answer” to making breakthrough improvements. However, the quality of those questions is the key! Getting the data and seeing it for the first time based on direct observation is powerful; and then if you can get customers, suppliers and company personnel working through the chain, the quality of questions that surface promote more innovative and accurate solutions.
  • Improvement vs. Habit-forming Execution: The combination of fresh eyes, diverse perspective, amnesty, and a collective, sincere interest to eliminate waste and continually improve the work process tends to bring about real, often outside-of-the-box solutions; true Improvement versus dong things the same way.

Identifying Waste?

waste is often the elephant in the room that nobody sees

As suggested in our previous post, our approach to Continuous Improvement (CI) has always involved a focus on the waste, as opposed to simply focusing on ‘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 instead, compensating steps have been built in to avoid bad outcomes such as poor quality or lost productivity.

Compensating for Unsolved Problems
For example, a maintenance organization for a power plant “walks down” each preventive maintenance job to make sure the instructions are clear and the parts are available. A financial services company sends every transaction to “QC” for inspection and corrections. A financial services company sorts all of the transactions by client and by transaction type before processing them. 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 you find yourself trying to find the best trade-off between two evils), you can be sure that you are masking underlying root causes which, if addressed, would lead to breakthrough business improvements. Nearly all the breakthroughs of the past forty years are a result of seeing waste and addressing the underlying causes where the competitors simply saw standard operating procedures.

The secret to doing better than the “optimum” is in surfacing and addressing the hidden assumptions.

Optimization is the process of evaluating the “trade-offs” between two things that seem to be in conflict. For example, as you increase inspection, you increase costs but you decrease the defects that get through. If you shorten your production runs, you can reduce your inventory but your production will decrease because change-over time required to change machines from producing A to producing B means more downtime. With optimization, you try to find the exact point that minimizes the total cost.

But every optimization problem has some “givens.” Taiichi Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System, and his followers achieved breakthroughs by shifting their focus from finding the best “trade-off” to working on these “givens.” When we talk about “root cause” analysis, we mean to focus on those “givens” or “underlying assumptions” that cause you to try to find the path of least waste. Once you find and address the underlying cause, assumption, or given, you can find and move to an optimum that is at a totally new level! And more room for improvement opens up as you make more progress on the “givens.” Instead of diminishing returns you have expanding opportunities!

But people are most often risk averse. It is very uncomfortable and difficult for most people to acknowledge waste before they can envision a solution for it. An organization will not embark upon a sincere search for waste without strong leadership questioning why, encouraging and rewarding the identification of waste, and challenging conventional wisdom.

The ability to recognize waste is a rare and valuable skill and it grows with practice. 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 problem.

3 Proven Steps
If you’re wondering how your organization might nurture the ability to recognize the waste embedded in your business processes, here are three suggestions for getting started:

  • 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.

The Case of Improvement v. Waste

waste

Former Red Sox star Ted Williams is 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.

As many CI leaders know, and as Ted Williams knew, seeking solutions to the latter in both of these instances is the key to achieving breakthrough results in the former.

In other words, it’s the understanding of what waste is and how to search for it, that makes all the difference. In fact, if your implementation of Continuous Improvement is simply to look for ideas for improvement, you will follow a road of diminishing returns. But if you search for WASTE, regardless of whether you already have a solution, you can delve into the underlying causes to make truly important improvements. And with each
significant transformation, new opportunities will come into view. Recognizing waste is a matter of vision, and vision is the starting point of real business transformation.

In our next post we’ll share ideas on identifying waste.

Four Effective Methods of Identifying Waste

identifying waste

Our previous post shared the perils of taking an “idea-driven” approach to identifying waste or opportunities for improvement. While this method often feels right, it seldom addresses the biggest problems within an organization.

Instead, one of the following four approaches can help project teams to identify the best opportunities for improvement – the ones that can yield the biggest gains:

The Goal-driven Search:
Start with the most pressing organizational goal and drill down to find the waste that affects that goal. Do you want to save time, money, improve quality, conserve capacity – what? The goal driven search for waste takes that goal and looks for any problem that affects it.

If your goal is to free up people’s time, you would then study the time to identify and prioritize every aspect that waste’s time. A work sampling study would provide you with a great deal of information about this.

If you want to free up production capacity, you would study and prioritize all the factors that waste your capacity – bottlenecks, set up times, producing the wrong thing (product that sits in inventory), yields – all the capacity spent producing product that cannot be sold, production capacity devoted to rework.

If you want to increase revenue, you would focus on identifying and quantifying the waste in all the factors that get in the way of sales, such as the use of sales reps time, selling methodology, lead generation, causes of lost sales, delays in installations or shipments, and so on.

The distinctive feature of the goal driven approach is that not all waste is treated equally. Instead of looking for waste in all its forms, this approach zeros in to identify and prioritize for removal of all the waste associated with a particular important goal.

The Brainstorming Approach:
The brainstorming approach is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to identify an extensive list of the waste in an organization. The first step is to collect a group of people knowledgeable about the work and solicit all the ideas about waste (i.e., identify waste, specify where it is, etc.)

Because the people who know most about the work identify the waste, these people are often very committed to working on improvement projects to get rid of it. This is one of the primary reasons why brainstorming is an excellent way to start an organization on a path of systematic continuous improvement.

The Work Walk-through Approach:
This method involves getting a group of people together to directly observe the work as it is done, searching for and capturing every bit of waste you can spot. It is a good idea to make sure your organization has a clear idea about “amnesty” and so that the people hard at work do not feel you are
watching for any mistakes they make. As you may know, almost all the waste in an organization is due to flaws in the system of work; management has the job of making sure the system is working well so as to minimize wasted time, materials, capital, etc.

Check-out the Process Approach:
This method of identifying waste involves creating a value map to identify inventory pileups, bottlenecks, and delays. You can then use a process evaluation tool to analyze the process and identify and quantify the waste.

You might also use a SIPOC tool to evaluate process flow. As you may know, a SIPOC diagram is a very high level process flow, identifying each key input and output of each process. The acronym SIPOC stands for suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers which form the columns of the table. It was in use at least as early as the total quality management programs of the late 1980s and continues to be used today in Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and business process management.

Identifying Waste v. Solutions

get further faster

Surviving and coming out ahead in these turbulent times demands that we all think carefully and choose well what to study and improve.

As Bill Conway frequently 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.

In many cases, organizations do not focus on identifying waste, but instead come up with lists of idea driven improvements. That is, someone comes up with an idea for an improvement, puts together a proposal, and then tries to implement it.

The problem with the idea-driven approach is that there is very little correlation between the list of ideas for improvement and the biggest problems or opportunities for improvement within the organization. The idea-driven approach to improvement depends on someone identifying a solution at the outset. But the biggest opportunities are usually buried in the tough long-term problems for which solutions are not immediately obvious to anyone! If a solution doesn’t occur to someone, the problem doesn’t make the list. If it doesn’t make the list, it is never studied sufficiently to come up with a solution.

Organizations get further faster by identifying the waste first and choosing the best opportunities from all of the areas of waste you have identified. A portion of the waste is easily spotted and addressed if you take the time to collect the information. But much of the waste is hidden — built into budgets, accepted practices, current operating procedures, and shared assumptions. It is built into processes that are compensating for problems that have not yet been solved. This waste is difficult to see without expanding the vision of what is possible.

Our next post will focus on best practices for seeing “what is possible” and for identifying the best opportunities for improvement.

Is Your Work Value-Added?

One of Bill Conway’s favorite sayings has always been, “The most important business decision people make every day, is deciding what to work on.”

It’s important for us all to continually self-evaluate in this area. What should we work on? What value will it add for our customers?

Once people know what to work on, they can then determine which tools and methods to use – i.e., How should we go about it? But deciding “what” to work on and “why” must be the first considerations.

Most of us would likely agree that we want our workforce to spend most if not all of their time on “value-added” work, which is often defined as the work our external customer would be willing to pay for, if they knew what we were doing.

Sometimes this is a product, sometimes a service, and sometimes a combination of product and value-adding service. For example, a value-adding distributor delivers the product to a work-site but can also prepare or pre-stage the material, so it is ready to be put into use, saving the construction company time and money. The value goes beyond the product they sell to the service of presenting it in the form that is ready for use.

Common Categories of Work

People are often surprised at the amount of “non-value-added” work that is part of the day-to-day reality in most organizations. Even in the best performing organizations, it is well under 50% of the work being done. In many organizations, over 80% of time and resources are not adding value.

Consider these common examples of non-value-added work:

  • Inspections to find errors
  • Rework to fix errors
  • Errors or defects that are never found and make their way into defective final product
  • Work that sits waiting in front of a bottleneck, or resources that are idled behind a bottleneck
  • Unnecessary work
  • Necessary work such as filling-out expense reports
  • Excess inventory
  • Work product that does not match customer needs or customer needs that go unmet because they have not been surfaced

So, the question is, what can, or should, we do to increase the amount of value-added work within our organization? Our next post will focus on some answers…

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: Part 2 – Trade-offs

Continuing with the theme of focusing on waste rather than “just on improvement,” the secret to making breakthrough gains or “optimization” is in surfacing and addressing the hidden assumptions.

Optimization is the process of evaluating the trade-offs between two things that seem to be in conflict.

For example, as you increase inspection, you increase costs but you decrease the defects that get through. If you shorten your production runs, you can reduce your inventory but your production will decrease because change-over time required to change machines from producing A to producing B means more downtime.

With optimization, you try to find the exact point that minimizes the total cost.

But every optimization problem has some “givens.”

Taiichi Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System, and his followers achieved breakthroughs by shifting their focus from finding the best trade-off to working on these “givens.”

When we talk about root cause analysis, we mean to focus on those “givens”  or “underlying assumptions” that cause you to try to find the path of least waste.

Once you find and address the underlying cause, assumption, or given, you can find and move to an optimum that is at a totally
new level – often referenced as the “Imagineered level,” or the way things could or should be if everything was right! 

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.