This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Reimagining Lean's Waste into Knowledge Work

In 7 Wastes That Impact Business Growth Jon Terry, one of the founders of LeanKit, presents a nice way of thinking through the Lean / Toyota Production System idea of waste and how one my think about it in the context of business growth in any type of organization.   

Since LeanKit tends to serve software developers and knowledge work environments, it feels like these ideas particularly apply to knowledge work, even though the blog post talks about business growth in general.  I also love how the writing here dovetails very nicely with more recent thinking in the TOC community around flow and how the primary goal of any system has to be around flow of value to the customer.  And a big implication of that statement is the removal of impediments to flow.  These wastes are one way to think about those impediments!

Here is the list from the article with some of my thoughts.

  1. (Too Much) Work In Process. This is one of the biggest killers, and it is one of the hardest to see - particularly for those of us wrapped up in work that is invisible.  Getting this out into the open is one of the best ways to start the conversation around improving this.  And I have to love the comment that there is always a bottleneck (constraint) that limits the flow.
  2. Delays. This seems obvious to state - delaying delivery to a customer is clearly bad.  But think about the flow of work from start to finish: how many delays, pauses, downtimes are there?  In TOC, we often talk about the customer tolerance time - will they put up with a one week lead time, or do they want it right way?
  3. Extra Capabilities
  4. Technical Debt. This a term I only see in IT / Agile circles, but it equate to quality in my mind.  I think there is also a context behind technical debt around developing usable products or products that don't require a lot of work arounds. 
  5. Handoffs. I like the Relay Racer analogy.  Handoffs have to be well-practiced, and well-understood for the whole race to succeed. The same goes in projects - handoffs happen, but we have to understand they are a source of friction in projects.
  6. Task Switching. I usually think of task switching and too much Work In Process as heavily intertwined. Too much WIP means people are switching between activities without getting anything done. They might also be in a situation where they are forced to switch due to delays, poor handoffs, defects, etc.  
  7. Defects.  Goes without saying - no one wants to pay for defects. Pure waste.

For reference, here are the classical Lean Seven Wastes (from the Muda article on Wikipedia): Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Over-production, Defects.  There are other lists and other articulations, of course.  

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