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value vs- waste

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How do you create value?

What value do you create in your company? How do you create it? These questions are at the start of my book, A Factory of One, and they're at the core of my workshop based on the book. In my experience, most people haven't taken the time to answer these questions, and as a result their days are filled with a whole lot of "busyness," but not as much value as they -- or their customers -- would like.

In a recent New York Times interview, Paul Bennett, the Chief Creative Officer at Ideo, said that

Until a year ago, I felt that I wasn’t fully able to perform my job as a kind of project leader for inspiration, because my time was not really my own. Like many people, I was hyper-scheduled, often in depressingly small chunks of time, at one meeting after another, with very little time in between. I remember one particular day when I had a different appointment or task every 10 minutes. My brain almost exploded.... [So] I started a ritual that I still use today: I sit down and look at my calendar every Sunday night, pore through my coming week’s meetings and cancel a bunch of them — redundant ones where I don’t need to be “in the loop,” ones where there is an opportunity for someone else to make a decision, ones that don’t particularly inspire me, or ones where I can’t really add value.

To stretch the meaning of 5S a bit, this sounds to me like "executive 5S." Bennett is sorting his commitments and setting his calendar in order. He's separating the wheat from the chaff, the value from the waste.

But doing this requires that you know what value you create and how you create it. In Bennett's case, he's realized that it's not by running from meeting to meeting, and being away from the flow of work in the office. Now, he says,

I try to spend about half my day at the help desk and the other half doing what I call “doctor’s rounds,” when I walk through the office and talk to people if they request it or if I feel that they are receptive to it. I now allow myself to be pulled, to drift in and out, and to be available for five-minute or two-hour interactions depending on what’s needed. Because of that, I feel as if I am part of a living, breathing organism, and responding to its needs rather than simply running from place to place with a calendar in my hand.

I'm probably the biggest advocate of "living in the calendar" in this community. I believe deeply that the calendar is a vital tool for allocating the scarce resource of time to the truly valuable commitments and demands on your time. But the calendar is a useful tool only insofar as you're able to identify how you create value.

Step back for a moment and think about it. How are you scheduling your days? What are you allocating your time to? How do you create value?

Special Note: Learn about Training Within Industry (TWI) and its role in the lean enterprise at the annual TWI Summit. The Summit is being held in Nashville, TN May 8-9, 2014 and is the annual gathering of world’s top TWI thought leaders and practitioners. Learn more at

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Doing stupid work faster is still stupid.

I was teaching a class at Stanford recently on process improvement. One of the students explained how much time he spends collecting, organizing, formatting, and distributing reports from other engineers in the organization for delivery to the senior management. We talked about a variety of ways that standard work, checklists, and templates could streamline this task, making it faster and easier. So far, so good.

Then we drew a value stream map and realized that although we could make his work more efficient, he was adding absolutely zero value. His work was 100% waste. All the value came from the information provided by the engineers in the field.

New Process

So we eliminated Rajiv's work entirely. He worked with IT to create a webpage for the engineers and provided them the template and format for the weekly and monthly reports. The engineers entered the information directly,  senior management downloaded and read the reports at their leisure -- and Rajiv had more time to do real work.

Old Process

It was a good lesson for Rajiv that optimizing waste doesn't change the fact that it's still waste. And it was a good reminder for me that anytime you see repackaging, reformatting, or reorganizing of data, you're almost certainly looking at waste. Why not get the information entered correctly the first time?


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First, identify the value.

If you want to improve the effectiveness of your organization, start focusing on value, not on deliverables. When you look at job descriptions or examine organizational expectations, you see that they're usually driven by a focus on deliverables, not value. To wit:

  • you need to be at the office from 9-5
  • we have an open door policy, and expect you to keep your door open at all times
  • everyone must attend the monthly all-day, division-wide meeting

Notice that the focus isn't on the value you're providing, it's on the deliverable of your presence during certain periods of time. But if you focus on the value your customer wants, you can remove the manacles of arbitrary expectations.

For example, a woman in a class I recently taught told me that her boss expects her to keep her door open all the time. In this case, the "deliverable" is the open door. Of course, that makes it difficult for her to get her own work done, because she's constantly interrupted by her team. But what's the value she's providing? Her team needs her to answer questions and solve problems as they arise -- and if you've ever managed a team, you know that many of the questions are the same ones, over and over. So why can't she put up a list of FAQs on the server, or post videos answering the most common questions, so that her team can access the answers when they need it, without interrupting her? Of course, she'd be available for more complex issues, but at least this method provides the value while improving her ability to do her own job.

Another example: a company I worked with used to have a quarterly, all-day meeting for its 75 directors and VPs. No one wanted to be there for the full 8 hours -- the "deliverable" -- but it was mandatory because the exec team wanted ideas to cross pollinate throughout the company. Once they focused on the value, however -- the cross-pollination -- they saw that there were other ways to accomplish the same goal. Now they have a much smaller, much shorter meeting, and the company pays for a giant pizza lunch once a quarter where  everyone can exchange ideas about what they're working on and why it's interesting.

It's often difficult to see the distinction between the value and the deliverable, because we're so used to thinking about (and being rewarded for) the latter and not the former. So try focusing on the problem you're trying to solve, rather than the format of the solution. Then consider multiple solutions to the problem. You'll likely find that within that solution set lies a better method for delivering the value to your customer.


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