Tag Archives: identifying waste

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.

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!).

The Way Things Could or Should Be

Our previous post discussed various ways of identifying waste, which can be defined as the difference between the way things are and the way things could or should be.

Imagineering” is an ideal process for making this type of determination, and for goal-setting, developing the best project plans, and for putting improvement ideas into practice.

As you may know, Imagineering was popularized in the 1940s by Alcoa to describe its blending of imagination and engineering. It was also adopted by Walt Disney a decade later, and is often referenced as a means of achieving “blue sky speculation,” a process where people generate ideas with no limitations…, where they try to achieve what “could or should be.”

Over the years we have consistently found that well-executed Imagineering workshops help people unleash their organization’s true potential and achieve breakthrough improvements.  Much more than traditional or simple brainstorming, the process starts with a strategic approach for imagining perfection, and ends with engineering this ideal state back down to earth.

You might consider the use of Imagineering as a means of generating innovative ideas and applying the principles to set goals and achieve breakthrough improvements.

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.

How Much of Your Work is Value-added?

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.

But studies indicate that even in the ‘best performing’ organizations, “value-added work” is well under 50% of the work being done!

Consider the following 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 a defective final product
  • Work that sits waiting in front of a bottleneck, or resources that are idled behind a bottleneck
  • Unnecessary work
  • Excess inventory
  • Work product that does not match customer needs or customer needs that go unmet because they have not been surfaced.

If this list is a familiar one, you’re not alone… and while this list could go on, the point is that there is a huge opportunity for improvement for most of us if we could simply convert just some of the non-value-added work into pure value-added work.

Simple… but not easy!

Assuming we conduct an honest assessment of all work processes, here are four ideas for increasing the amount of value-added work:

  1.  Work on the bottlenecks
  2. Increase understanding of/ alignment with what customers truly value
  3. Identify root causes of errors, defects, etc.
  4. Eliminate non-value-adding administrative work such as unnecessary email, unproductive meetings, or reports that do not produce additional value for the customers or the organization

Read the full article…

A Closer Look at Value-Added Work

value1As noted in our previous post, the most elementary definition of value-added work is “work our external customer would be willing to pay for. if they know 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.

But a large portion of every organization’s resources goes not to true value creation but to all the additional activities we have in place because we have not yet found a way to make them unnecessary.

For example, if given the choice, the customer would be willing to pay us to do the job right, but not to pay us to do it wrong first and then fix it.

Would they be willing to pay extra for error-prone processes that require us to inspect the output to try to find the mistakes?

Would they be willing to pay us to warehouse inventory (as it slowly grows obsolete), or to build in features they would never use?

Would they be willing to pay us to wait for the work that is held up by our bottlenecks?

Adding Value to the Bottom Line
The customer may be willing to pay the price we ask, but all of the waste is on our dime. Every bit of it we can eliminate can be taken right to our bottom line.

Many people and functions play a vital role in helping the internal customer provide value for the external customer by providing key enablers such as technology, safety, or information to those creating the value for external customers. Some of these people may also remove the complexities or problems from work, possibly through inspection and rework,  or through process improvements.

If we can eliminate the root causes of these complexities and impediments, the time we spend removing them can be redeployed to creating more value. However, if an organization is not yet well aligned and 100% focused on creating value for the external customers, internal customers may actually create waste by requesting products or services from internal suppliers (i.e., coworkers) that do not create value. This may include attendance at non-value adding meetings, reports that do not increase ability to serve external customers, data or analysis that do not increase ability to provide more value to the customers.

We can manage this risk and increase alignment by constantly challenging and rethinking work to ensure it creates value for external customers or helps internal customers create value for external customers.

In our next post we’ll take this final point further, and identify specific steps for increasing the percentage of work that is value-added.

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.