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Understanding the Real Waste

The other week I had a really interesting discussion over a coffee with potential client. They had been working internally to find a way to really drive and push a continuous improvement culture into their organisation and were looking for someone to help out.

We talked about what their current challenges were and what they want to achieve, they said that what they wanted was to be able to put more continuous improvement ideas through their systems than their other plants, they wanted to be the best in their group, the one with the most ideas!

Alarm Bells 

We talked a little about quality of ideas over quantity and about the alignment of those ideas on a theme, this wasn't important, any idea is a good idea I was told. This is of course not true, it's one of those things that people in charge will say in the belief that it drives engagement and encourages people. It doesn't. If your organisational issue is that you can't get enough product through your process and someone has an idea about speeding up the automated door in the warehouse to save 4 seconds a cycle, it's probably a really bad investment and ultimately a bad idea. I delicately pointed this out (I'm Scottish so obviously delicate is probably a relative term to be fair).

We talked about why providing a single focus point for the ideas would be a good way to go. Focusing the entire brain power of the organisation on solving just 1 problem over the space of a few days or maybe 2 weeks would be a pretty powerful thing and provide alignment as well.

It didn't sound like they were overly convinced.

Talking About Alignment 

This discussion lead onto one on organisational alignment where they admitted it was a problem, people seemed to do what they wanted and the boss didn't want to or stifle people in their roles, he was about getting out the way! Ok but if you don't give direction, if you don't say Ok here is the challenge, and the consequences of not achieving that then how do you get everyone to move in the same direction, to not steal resources from each other, to avoid the internal politics that come along with this abdication of leadership? (I may have started being less delicate here) It wasn't abdication I was told; it was empowerment. So, people can do what they want? How does that take you towards your goals or organisational mission? How does it serve the purpose? It's a challenge they admitted and was an area they wanted to focus on with the CI program, did I have ideas?

I avoided suggesting we bin the CI and fix the leadership issues, which is where you need to start here, and thought for a moment. Ah! And idea popped into my head. Well if we can pick an area of focus for the CI and get everyone engaged that would help right, a slow nod came in response. Well that will help in alignment but what will really help is if we can get everyone in the organisation together in a brief session, no more than 10 or 20 mins a day or every other day to talk about the issues and what we have done the day before. We look for what successes were had the day before, what improvements were done, how much time was saved or quality defects avoided or fixed, what processes were touched and improved. The whole organisation together for 1 discussion on CI and culture with 1 set of metrics, there are only 40 in the whole company after all. This can create amazing alignment and more over signal how important this work is.

Ah! Said the potential client, that sounds like an option, but we would be better doing it in the smaller groups, that way we will cut out the waste, we don't want people sitting or standing around who aren't involved in any of those discussions. Isn't that part of these lean wastes? Wouldn't we be introducing waste with that, nope we'd do smaller ones and probably fortnightly would be the most we could get.

What is the Real Waste Here

I asked them to think about that for a second, what is the waste that your organisation is struggling with the most?

Easy they said, productivity. Why, I asked. We just can't get things done on time, not enough people I think, and the quality is bad so we probably should include defects in the waste focus as well.

I tried again, you want alignment, but don't want to 'stifle' the talent and can't pull people together to discuss what is important, you want lots of ideas but they won't provide direction on what type of ideas you want and where they should focus? But she countered, continuous improvement in the foundation of lean which is what we want so we need to focus there.

That's' true, it's one of the foundations, the other is respect for people and the waste that is most prevalent in this organisation is that of non-utilised talent. There is no respect for people here. There isn't enough respect for them to provide very clear direction on what is important to the organisation and why it is important. Saying to someone that their behaviour is out of line and that politics has no place is respectful both to those impacted by this behaviour and the person as they may not even know they are doing it so they have the chance to change and grow (they probably know they are doing it!).

Saying that the organisation is too busy to stop and ensure that everyone has the same understanding isn't respectful, not celebrating successes and learnings isn't respectful and it all culminates in not being able to use the talent that you have in the organisation to help you move forward. You can't fix your productivity or quality if you are not aligned and not respecting your people.

There was a bit of a pause. Look they said, there is no way I'll get the boss to agree to very much of this, I've only got this far because I promised we could get more ideas on the list than any other division.

Saying No to Waste

Saying no to helping this company was easy, it's not ready to do things right, to respect their people enough to do things right. Saying No is one of the most important things you can do in your life or business, you have to say no or you can't say yes to the really important things, to the things you have to focus on to be happy and to be a success. (hint always choose happiness first, success will follow)

This organisation was looking to score points on a board, not develop their people or grow a culture of continuous improvement, they certainly were never going to respect their peoples brain power and if they wouldn't respect them then they certainly wouldn't respect my time or ideas either. While I was working on this organisation and getting nowhere, there would be another organisation out there who could benefit that I couldn't spend time with, that's most certainly waste.

When you want to focus on wastes it's important that you really step back and think about it holistically, what is the real waste that you have, how can you target that and why, and how will you align everyone around it. Only then you'll start making changes for the better and understand the real waste in your organisation.


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Thursday, 09 April 2020

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