Momentum from Mundane Waste

Momentum from Mundane Waste


That’s right. The waste you see every single day, the most mundane (a.k.a. commonplace) can become the momentum that will revive, kick-start, or just keep your Lean manufacturing program going. Regardless of the current status, one of the best ways to move things along is to find quick wins in the day-to-day. Not only will they produce results, but those results will be noticed everyday.

Ideally, focus on projects whose effects will be easily won and felt immediately. That may seem easier said than done, but we’ve got some ideas to get you started. Achieving results from projects like these can help turn the most cynical people into at least willing participants when you’re looking for help with a bigger project.

Who doesn’t want to simplify their job?

Picture this. Everyday, you walk into work knowing that you’ll have to participate in a process that takes much longer than it should and is, as you see it, the root of many other problems that slow down your work. Nothing is ever done about it, because it’s not big enough or doesn’t affect the end customer. On top of that, you’re being asked to add other things to your workload. You’re beginning to think that the company doesn’t care about the things that you deal with every day.

Let’s hope this doesn’t describe your real life. It’s just a hypothetical scenario, but if you’re having flashbacks to a previous job that drove you crazy, take a deep breath and leave that mess in the past. We’ve all been there.

Maybe you’re responsible for the Lean program and the initiatives have slowed down a bit. Your annual goalwas to increase the number of  completed projects by 5% over last year. At this rate, you’ll end up a little short of last year’s total. In order to catch up, you need fresh ideas. You need to tap into a part of the organization that hasn’t been included before or to see the same old problems with a fresh perspective. It’s time to shake things up a bit.

To start turning these mundane issues into a Lean goldmine, there are a few hints to help you out. The good news is they are probably things you’re already aware of.

Signs of Waste Waiting to be Transformed into Momentum

  • Frustration:Listen to the talk around the water cooler or break room. Are there a couple processes or layouts that even your most positive team members seem to dislike? They, the processes or layouts not your team members, might be good places to start looking for projects that will impact people where they most need help. These conversations may also be good opportunities to get first-hand insights from the people who see the problems every day and find out it they want to be involved in getting rid of them.
  • Common threads:If a certain process shows up in those frustration conversations, accident reports, employee engagement survey results, exit interviews, and customer complaints, it needs to be improved or completely overhauled. Think through your own experiences and see where you agree with the other data points. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing these coincidences or not noticing them. 
  • Overtime:In some cases, overtimemay be necessary, like an emergency order from a top-notch customer. In all other cases, it’s more than likely a sign that something needs to change – inventory flow, machine maintenance, workstation organization, etc. If no one can explain a legitimate reason for the overtime or it has become the norm, take a hard look at the root cause.
  • Bottlenecks:This is a classic sign, and for good reason. Wherever there are people or goods backed up, there’s waste. Waiting equals waste. It can also be boring. Clear up a bottleneck and get things moving again. Your team and your bottom line will thank you.

Next Steps

Once you’ve identified the step, workstation, process, or layout to be improved, take action. There might be nothing more motivating than seeing a formerly ignored problem being taken care of. On the flipside, known problems that continue to be allowed are even more discouraging and frustrating. In the worst cases, they cause apathy, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Tackle the known problems, even if they aren’t the ones you know about right now.

Pay attention, observe, see connections and do something. Get your team involved. Vet the idea with them and those upstream or downstream from the project. Go back to the water cooler and see what the people who inspired your project think of it. You might need to do this a couple times or bring people together for a brainstorm.

In the process of gathering input and ideas, you might also spark the interest of someone who’d be a great addition to the project team. At the very least, people will know you’re interested in eliminating even the most mundane waste – all of it.

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