The Next Lean Project Is You
The way we work, writes Daniel Markovitz, author of A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, is filled with wasteful and unproductive practices. How many times have you reopened an e-mail, reminded yourself that you have to do something about it, and then moved on to the next e-mail? In fact, most of us cleverly click on the Not Read button to remind us that the e-mail must be re-read in the future. How many of us are working on a task, remember an e-mail we want to send, go into our inbox and immediately start reading and answering the nine new e-mails we received since we last checked our e-mail? The original task is suddenly forgotten. And those are just two e-mail examples. How many of us have piles in our inboxes — and there's often more than one inbox to accommodate overflow — and we really don't know what is loitering at the bottom of those piles?
The litany of waste and inefficiency goes on and on. And the results can be disastrous. Markovitz tells the story of one executive who dropped by the cluttered office of a corporate vice president and discovered, laying loose in a pile of papers, a refund check from the IRS for $14 million.
Start with the 5S
In A Factory of One, Markovitz demonstrates how lean tools — the waste and cost-reducing production methodologies originated by the Japanese in their factories — can resolve these intractable poor work habits. The foundation of lean, for example, is what’s known as the 5S, based on five Japanese words that begin with the letter S (and that were translated into equivalent S-words in English).
The 5S are:
- Seiri (sort): Throw out obsolete or useless items, and sort the rest by frequency of use.
- Seiton (straighten or set in order): Arrange your tools in a manner that promotes smooth workflow.
- Seiso (shine or sweep): Keep the workplace clean. A cluttered desk means waste of time and waste of space.
- Seiketsu (standardize or systematize): develop a consistently organized workspace. We’re not talking about the annual spring cleaning.
- Shitsuke (sustain): Have a system for ongoing support and maintenance of the first four elements.
The ultimate goal of the 5S is simple: to allow the individual to always know where everything is so that he or she can do the work he or she is paid to do.
Applying the 4Ds
Another lean concept is the 4Ds, which describe a daily work process for dealing with incoming information and new tasks. The goal of the 4Ds is flow. Applying the 4Ds — do, delegate, designate and discard — is the antidote to wasteful procrastination. With each item in your inbox, for example, you either: do it, if it can be completed in less than two minutes; delegate it; designate it, which means you schedule time in your calendar or task list to undertake the tasks; or discard it.
Markovitz convincingly demonstrates through specific tools and examples that applying lean production tools and concepts to individual work is a natural and effective way to improve performance. After all, the driving mandate of lean is to reduce waste — no matter how that waste manifests itself.