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. Not many would say they are in favor of waste.

First: Why do I want to talk about this? Many reasons. 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 hard… in 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, 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. One simple technique is a value stream map.  And then 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, anytime 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 important. But does the customer see it as adding value?

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. (Let us be honest, though, in any good size organization or process, waste has crept in — wasteful steps that really are not needed.)

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

First, you eliminate easy waste (wait time is not as easy to eliminate as one might hope). Then once most of the Type II muda has been eliminated step-by-step, 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?” and “Should we really be doing any or much of that 80% of effort 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 questions 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 seven types of waste on Page 4 of this slide deck.


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