A key aspect in Lean Manufacturing is the concept of Waste. In 1937 Taiichi Ohno working in the "Toyota Automatic Loom Works" factory stated that the productivity of an American worker was nine times higher than a Japanese worker. In 1945 Ohno found himself thinking about that gap in productivity. He found there was too much waste in Toyota’s processes. His assumption was: If the waste could be eliminated then productivity would increase. This was the moment of the onset of the Toyota Production System (TPS).
Subsequently, 7 wastes were identified that are central to the TPS, and well identified in production environments. Over-production, waiting, transportation, over-processing, inventory, motion, and defective products. In other than production environments identifying the wastes is a more delicate task. As in 2020, we started to do more work from home, and the 4th Industrial Revolution continued to evolve, with more and more workers engaged in digital work. Office and IT work are 2 key areas where we look to create more value.
One question I have in mind is how a process with waste “built in” is produced in the first place? How is it that the Toyota workers in 1945, or the workers from anywhere in 2021, feel “normal,” or even comfortable, with a process that is bloated with waste?
Imagine someone organizing a dinner party. He or she has been raised with the experience of their mother thoroughly cleaning the table beforehand. As a child they were praised when doing the same. A strong relation is set between the table and the act of cleaning. Therefore, when setting the goal to have a party, the behavior of arranging the table and surrounding chairs will take a certain amount of energy. But there is also a strong need to clean, making extra work. You would say, “Yes, it is normal to clean the table.” Of course, if you do this quickly, in 3 minutes, and you exert the same amount of energy, it’s vastly different than doing this task in 10 minutes and having spent 10 times as much. If for that person there is a high emotional charge in the connection between a clean table and the cleaning behavior, then “satisfying” that connection will create a sensation of comfort, or even of excitement, disproportionate to the energy that is used. Afterward though, this may turn into a feeling of being tired. And, you may say to yourself, “I don’t know why I’m so tired.”
We have effective behaviors, some of which are high energy consuming and others that are more efficient in terms of energy consumption. Let's look at a simple example. Once someone is in an impaired state, to go from point A to point B they may go in circles because they can’t walk in a straight line. Maybe in the end they will reach point B. But the distance they walked is probably took a lot more energy. So, we can say that the behavior was the not the most efficient to get from point A to point B. This behavior was disrupted by the impaired state the person was in. Distortions like this may be easy to recognize in people. They may waste a lot of energy in many different kinds of impaired states.
We can also recognize when someone’s language is not coherent. We may say it’s inefficient, as in the above example of walking in circles. When someone is talking too much, or being too hesitant to ask questions, there can be a drain on productivity.
We might think about how the tabletop is related to the legs of the table. This is fixed and stable. The chairs, however, are variable because they can move. In the same way, we can look to the fixed or variable relationship between behavior and Waste, thinking and Waste, emotions and Waste. We can calculate a correlation between the energy spent, or wasted, with someone’s behavior and their corresponding mindsets. In the end, two different people will either create waste or create value in the way that they operate something (e.g. a machine). But also, they will create waste or create value by the way they use their own energy.
When we do change work in coaching, we are affecting peoples’ inner representations; the images in their minds and the way they talk to themselves. A person’s inner processes will be linked–even mediated by–the results of their behaviors. We noted the idea that results are also valued based on the energy someone spends to produce those results. What we want is to create an effective relationship between a person’s inner representations and the external results. Also, by increased efficiency in their behavior: less wasted energy.
In Lean we talk about 7 forms of waste which are correlated with this waste of energy. Of course when we talk about energy, we have to differentiate how much energy we spend and how tired we are afterwards. This also further correlates with certain functional areas of the brain. NeuroScience brain scan research shows that when we engage in physical activity, we may overuse, and burn, more oxygen and glucose in certain parts of the brain. Feeling tired is not only coming from our muscles, but also from the increased consumption of oxygen and depleted glucose. This is evident in an fMRI scan. In this way, we can see a relationship between the external waste of energy and the subjective experience of low energy due to the energy consumption in the brain, correlated with the feeling of being tired. Even when we just click a mouse. In the same way we may engage other types of the activities in order to satisfy our needs. Maybe efficiently, maybe not.
Being tired is a state. Stress is also a state. Think about driving while you are tired. The chances that you are not very attentive because you are in a hurry to get home might be inclined to speed up. This increases the chances of having an accident. It is well known that the highest cost in money and lives is because of excessive speed. Why? Because of the lack of a realistic ability to predict based on our actions, along with overestimating our own control in relation to our surroundings. Do you “drive” your life safely? Having stress is like driving a car impaired. For our purposes here, accidents are a form of waste. We can make a parallel between driving while tired and being in a state of stress. The other common parallel we can draw between being tired (or impaired in any other way) and being stressed: usually we’re not aware of the state, much less the consequences of being in that state. We underestimate the relationship between our behavior and the consequences. The stress state is correlated with behavior that is inefficient and connected with higher waste in production.
Various brain structures, correlating with sensory representations and language, are operating when we are creating or designing something. This includes “designing” future behavior leading to a result. If we are not in an efficient–and energy efficient–state, we may introduce Waste into whatever we do. It may feel completely normal to us, since we may not be aware of the state or consequences, but it can be wasteful nonetheless.
In the previous article I explain the double functions of beliefs and mindsets. In both perceiving reality and creating reality, our experience is shaped by our mindset and we experience them as “normal” regardless of the efficiency. Efficient behavior will be put into action by a resilient mindset. In the end this is what creates value. Inefficient behavior will be put into action by a stress mindset, which in the end leads to waste.
You can read more on this topic here:
Lean Talent: Stress Latency - the blueprint for 7 Wastes
Lean Talent: how we create (more) value
Lean Talent: Agility to Meet Sustainability
About the Author, Cătălin Zaharia: M.D., E.C.P., B.Eng., Professional Coach
Since 2004 has worked with the principles of TOTE and later consulted with board members and coached top management teams in using PDCA in continuous improvement initiatives. He has an extensive background in organizing training and coaching programs for 100’s of managers in being more effective in Lean projects. Cătălin has graduate degrees in Health Care Management and BioMedical Informatics and completed his medical degree with a residency in Psychiatry. Currently, Cătălin is practicing, teaching and conducting research in neuro-linguistic psychotherapy, and is a business consultant and coach.