The Hidden Waste Lurking in Your Operation

The 8th Waste in Lean Operations

If you have spent any amount of time in or around Lean Manufacturing, you no doubt have heard of the Seven Waste originating from the Toyota Production System (TPS).
For those not familiar with those waste, the list looks like this (the order changes depending on your source but for the sake of using the TIMWOOD acronym we will use the following sequence)
1. Transporting
2. Inventory
3. Motion
4. Waiting
5. Overproduction
6. Over / Excess Processing
7. Defects
An internet search will return numerous good reads on the above list so I will turn the focus to a lesser known but oft included 8th waste. The additional waste category may take on differing names such as Human Potential, Not-Utilizing Talent, Non-Utilized Talent, Skills, etc. Regardless of the name, the waste stream is real and left unresolved can lead to frustration and disengaged employees. Examples of this category of waste include employees asked to follow blindly without empowerment, mismatching employee skill sets to the designated role, disregarding personality types, or asking employees to complete work with little perceived value. It is this last idea that will be explored below in the form of data administration.

Hidden Waste

Data administration can easily hide in the chasm between the manufacturing line and the front office. The manufacturing line gets plenty of attention to its waste: scrap rate, 1st pass yield, rework, downtime, etc. In the operations leadership and management environment data administration waste sometimes goes unchecked, though certainly not unnoticed by those suffering the consequences of processes with built in repetitive data administration. While at times necessary, data administration can lead to excess hours of non-value-added work, and generally becomes an anchor holding down the continuous improvement process.

Let’s address this form of waste with a fictional example of production data tracking.


Manual Data Tracking

ACME Cycles is a contract manufacturer of bicycles branded for small market bicycle shops. Business has been strong, and the backlog is growing. Pressure is starting to mount as the spring sales season is coming. Any missed delivery targets will become lost sales opportunities. Samantha is the Plant Manager and wants to track the number of units produced per hour, defects/issues observed on the line, scrap, and work stoppage (downtime). Samantha has created a form to track each category of information and assigned John, the tandem cycle assembly line leader, to ensure the form is completed and turned in at the end of the shift for his line. Each of the assembly lines has a similar process. At the end of the shift, the line leaders are tasked with entering the information into a spreadsheet for the next 30 minutes (or 60 if there are higher than normal downtime and defect issues for the day), except for the unicycle line as they always seem to be doing their own thing. Once the data is entered, the line leader then spends another 30 minutes updating charts and creating a summary for review by the operations team at their stand up meeting the next morning. Great, we have a well-defined process, each person knows their role, and information is made available the next day for review and follow up. But wait, we are going through a lot of paper and the customer doesn’t really care to pay for that cost. What about John? Would the customer be more willing to pay for his time pushing paper and updating spreadsheets or making defect free bicycles?


Transitioning to Electronic Data Submission – Leads to Shifting, Not Solving

Samantha finds the information valuable but recognizes the opportunity to improve the process. She really needs John present at the line to keep the team on track. The pressure to deliver on time continues to mount so she would also like to have the information available for review at the midpoint of the shift as well as the end of the shift. The team decides to change the process and have the operators enter their information directly into a spreadsheet (to eliminate paper and the data entry by John). The team goes full speed ahead by putting PC’s on the line for operators to input their data and creates spreadsheet templates and shared folder storage system for each line to maintain their respective information. John doesn’t have time to update the spreadsheets at the midpoint of the shift and is now working overtime to keep pace with the busy season. Ernesto, Operation Team Lead, is now tasked with extracting information from each assembly line’s spreadsheet and merging it into a master spreadsheet across all assembly lines. John is feeling better because he is no longer spending 30-60 minutes per day administering spreadsheets and charts and is back on the line leading the team where he feels most fulfilled. Samantha likes the twice per day updates which allows the team to make corrections to the process sooner. What about Ernesto? We have only managed to shift the data administration from one role to another, but it still exists, and we have started down the path of spreadsheet chaos. And the customer? The bicycle will take them somewhere and give them enjoyment such that they will gladly trade their hard-earned money for the expertly assembled frame, wheels, and pedals. However, they can’t ride a spreadsheet and therefore still not interested in paying for the time spent on data administration and creating charts.


Avoid Burn Out – Finding the Right Tool for the Job

Thankfully, Samantha is an experienced operations leader with a lean background. She is engaged with her team and recognizes that Ernesto is now thrust into a situation where he is burning repetitive energy collecting and collating information for the rest of the team. Ernesto is staying at work extra hours each week in order to keep up with the original workload and the newly added data administration requirements that shifted his way when the team made the move to twice daily updates. Samantha and her team have benefitted from the information they have been collecting and analyzing, yet she doesn’t want her team to suffer the burnout and frustration associated with spreadsheet chaos and the waste in the data administration of the process.
Samantha does her research and finds the perfect solution for her team. She has found a web-based tool that allows her team to configure the forms to enhance their process. They can now capture all the input at the source and bypass the spreadsheet. The team has already defined their KPI’s so they build report templates that can be used by each assembly line individually or rolled up at the plant level. The reports are then dropped onto a dashboard to be used by the team during the daily stand up meetings. No longer is it necessary for John, Ernesto, Samantha, or any other member of the team to spend an hour or two per day working on data administration. The data collected at the assembly line flows into the dashboards in real time. John is feeling supported by his management team because not only has the new real time analytics tool made data entry even easier, but he now has a tool that can provide real time notifications to his support network when his line is experiencing issues. His team has red/yellow/green visual indicators that help them see when they are falling behind the schedule. The real time visibility leads to seeking assistance sooner and there are no more surprises at the end of the shift. Ernesto is relieved to remove the repetitive data administration tasks from his job description and is back to leaving work on time and assisting with his daughter’s soccer practices that he has been missing for the past two months. Samantha not only has a happy and engaged team, she now has real time status tracking of the operations and doesn’t need to wait for the twice daily updates to find out if they are gaining ground on the delivery backlog.

While the story above may be fiction, similar situations are being played out in manufacturing operations all over the world. There is a somewhat typically maturation process that companies go through starting with paper, then hybrid, then fully electronic. There are even some lean practitioners in the school of thought that tracking on paper/white boards forces a better level of engagement and brings awareness to the information being collected and that electronic tracking is not beneficial. [That topic of debate is worth its own article in the future]


Spaghetti Systems

As a company attempts to improve their process over a period of years, maybe decades, it is commonplace to end up with different solutions for each department. Quality has a tool for nonconformance and defect tracking and possibly another software solution for gage and calibration management. The continuous improvement leader has a tool for tracking events and projects. Production uses a different set of tools to manage productivity and efficiency. Don’t forget about maintenance, someone needs to keep all those lines running and with that team comes their own CMMS to track work orders and planned maintenance activity. Somewhere in all this software spaghetti mess is the big CRM meatball.

Scattered Information

With all these systems in place, the organization might be feeling good about having electronic tools to track their key processes within each department. However, it is then that they find themselves back to the data administration frustration, albeit one layer up (i.e. shifted) on the org chart, because the systems do not talk to each other. At this point, the managers are extracting information from each of their respective systems and putting them into the top-level management presentation formats for review.


Thrive Software Platform for Operations

You may be wondering, what if that same tool that Samantha engaged for operations productivity and efficiency tracking also contained all the tools needed by the quality, continuous improvement, safety, and maintenance departments? Imagine the benefits to the management team if a single dashboard could show the KPI from each department in real time. Consider the training benefits for employees that transfer from one department to another and no longer need to learn to use a new software tool, but rather just adapt current skills to a new set of departmental processes and procedures. If such a system existed, wouldn’t that mean that facility work request that I entered on my mobile phone while walking into work this morning, the customer complaint call our quality team took a few minutes ago, and the five units that just left the assembly line headed for the shipping dock are already on my dashboard? The answer is an emphatic Yes!
The above scenario may sound like more fiction, but this is where Lean Technologies turns this story into reality using the Thrive software platform.

If you would like to hear from Thrive users experiencing this new reality, check out the videos page.

or want to talk to someone on the Lean Technologies team about transforming your reality, drop us a note

By |2019-09-24T17:30:52+00:00September 24th, 2019|Manufacturing, Productivity Tools, Thoughts|0 Comments

When all else fails, be brutally honest

At LeanTech, we recently signed up for Office 365 (as a side note, I didn’t think I’d find myself back in Office products…was trying to go all in with Google apps, but it’s really turned out to be a great experience…except for OneDrive for Business, which is a complete mess).  Kale was working on getting some things setup in our O365 environment and was looking at the online documentation and encountered this:


Gotta love the honesty here:

The box might be tricky to grab, and moving it might take you a few times.

As it turns out, it was impossible to grab.  Kale never got it.  But at least they were up front about it.

So in the spirit of being up front…Thrive has never had great documentation.  Thankfully, we’ve had very patient and understanding users.  However, we’re working on turning that around.  You can begin finding it here:  Looking for help on something you’re not finding on the docs site?  Drop us a note.  We’re working on improving panel 6 of this comic:



By |2016-01-04T16:34:57+00:00January 4th, 2016|Thoughts|0 Comments

“We are not here to make money”

One of my favorite segments from Paul Akers’ 2 Second Lean book.

Perhaps one of the most controversial concepts I push is that we are not here to make money. Profit and money are a by-product of an effective Lean culture. We are here first and foremost to improve the quality of the customer’s life. Internally, we are here to grow our people.  If we do both of these at a high level, we will be profitable. However, profit is not the reason to do Lean nor is it the reason a company exists. If I told you the number of times I have encountered businesses that have gone south, with good products and capable people, you would be shocked. Ultimately the problem stems from the leadership focusing on profit and themselves, forgetting why the business exists in the first place. Take your mind off the numbers, focus on your customer, your people and serving others, and you will be surprised how everything else will work out.  [emphasis added]

This resonates with me because I have valued this same thought since day one of Lean Technologies.  And often I feel like I’m from another planet when I try to communicate this.  Over the last twelve years I have heard numerous comments like the following:

  • What is your exit strategy?  I got this question early and often within the first couple years of my business.  Why would I exit?  I’m just getting started!  It seems like people have found it hard to believe there wasn’t a deliberate end goal.  My goal in starting the business was to alleviate my own personal frustration with manufacturing software, and to help others encountering the same pain.  To quote Paul again, fix what bugs you!  I didn’t get started just to quit.
  • Your pricing structure is completely wrong.  This comment was targeted at the price being too high (or too low; see below) for Thrive.  The idea being communicated was that anyone with a $1,000 spending limit at a manufacturing company should be able to jump online and buy Thrive.  Again, the approach here seemed to be to fleece customers.  Get people to buy, but who cares if they ever get any value out of your software.  This again did not align with my values.  I wanted people engaged in improving their organizations, not suckers with a ProCard.  Interestingly, I often get the flip-side argument which is that the software is priced too low.
  • You should be charging for every user.  This certainly works and makes sense in a lot of industries.  However, typically those scenarios involve very specific applications (think email, Pandora, Dropbox).  The reason this bugged me in a manufacturing environment is that people’s engagement with the software varies greatly.  You have “power users” who are in an application every day and you may not mind paying the full license fee for.  But then you have the “long tail” of users who are only in the application from time-to-time and now you need to shell out a bunch of money.  Ultimately, I didn’t want to stick companies in “user management” mode, which just means they are trying to find ways to trick the system and use generic accounts or spend lots of time trying to manage user licenses.  The data is their data…you own the software and data, just start using it!
  • You maintenance contracts are setup wrong.  This is another one I wanted to fix from personal experience.  I didn’t like (and still don’t like) expensive software contracts that I felt added no value.  I also didn’t like not receiving the next major upgrade of a product and having to pay for it.  Ultimately, from a lean standpoint, it is easier for both the customer and the software company if everyone is on the same product.  So don’t tick off customers by making them pay for your next big thing!  A great notable example of this is Microsoft’s recent change to Windows 10.  They want people on Windows 10.  They don’t want a whole bunch of people on 8 or 7.  They already experienced a significant portion of their user base clinging to Windows XP for years.  Similarly, we want every customer on our latest Thrive iteration.  This year we’ve been focusing on getting everyone from Thrive 2 to Thrive 3…and it’s just part of the maintenance agreement!

My biggest issue with most of these questions and comments is that they are not customer focused.  They are business and profit focused.  And the moment those internal goals become the focus you start losing sight of the customer.  You begin focusing on wringing out one more user out of each client instead of thinking about how you can help them.

I have seen plenty of large organizations where the customer is some distant afterthought.  The company is so focused on hitting a certain profit margin, or internal budget goal, or some other number that has no connection to the pain of or value delivered to the end customer.  They have lost sight of why they are in business in the first place.

Maybe I’m just a bit altruistic, but as Paul says, if we focus on improving our customers’ lives and developing internal people, we will make money.

By |2015-12-27T22:16:03+00:00December 27th, 2015|Thoughts|0 Comments
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