Monday, March 19, 2007

Waste in projects...Working hard is not enough.

The second big idea in Lean is waste. Or getting rid of waste (muda in Japanese). Seems obvious. Everyone in favor of waste, raise their hands....umm, no one.

First: Why do I want to talk about this? Many reasons; one today. I meet so many development team members who are so gung-ho, they want to impress everyone with how hard they are working. Working hard is nice, and a demonstration of good character. Up to a point. But working hard, by itself, can be wasteful. (Other issues with working another blog entry.)

[Note: My apologies to people experienced with Lean. I feel it is necessary to go over these basics first. If you wish to comment, with a more advanced insight, please do. Please be patient.]

There are many types of waste (to be discussed later). Let's start with time as an example. In simple terms, (and it really means more than this implies) let's look at waste being every extra second it takes from the time we start working on the product until the end customer gets satisfaction. Think of it first as "I'm an impatient customer, and I want to be satisfied now." Lean attacks the time delay with a value stream map...and actions arising from that.

This is what Womack and Jones say:

Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating every step and every action and every practice that does not create value.

The value stream is the set of all the specific actions required to bring a specific product through the critical management tasks of any business: the problem-solving task running from concept through detailed design and engineering to production launch, the information management task running from order-taking through detailed scheduling to delivery, and the physical transformation task proceeding from raw materials to a finished product in the hands of the customer. Identifying the entire value stream for each product is the next step in lean thinking, a step which firms have rarely attempted but which almost always exposes enormous, indeed staggering, amounts of waste.

"Wait a minute", you say, "how can I, smart as I am, be doing anything that does not add value?"

First, any time things are standing idle, it is waste.

Second, value is defined in the eye of the customer. So, of course you are always doing stuff that you or someone thinks is very very very important. But does the customer see it as adding value to him (or her)?

In Lean there are two types of waste: Type I muda is waste that is (currently) unavoidable. Government reporting might be an example of this. You don't want to go to jail, so although it adds no value to the customer, you do the government report.

Type II muda is avoidable waste. Like wait time.

Note that muda is an ugly word (in Japanese). Lean uses it for that very reason. Waste is ugly.

Once most of the Type II muda has been eliminated step-by-step, then you go back and re-evaluate Type I muda. Isn't some of that now avoidable? Can't we talk to the government, etc?

We will also suggest that many things that once seemed important and useful are, under a careful eye, things that can be done with less effort or in a simpler way, thus avoiding much waste.

Using these ideas, we can use Pareto's 80/20 rule, and ask: "Are we focused on the 20% of effort that will produce the 80% of value?" "Should we really be doing any or much of that 80% of things that only produces 20% of the value?"

Thinking about and talking about waste in this way typically raises many questions...we will start to talk about those in a few more posts. Comment below with your questions.

Next, we want to talk about another way to look at the types of waste. See the Poppendiecks for a preview. See the list of 7 types of waste on page 3 of this linked article.

** Joe Little

No comments: