Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stop! Enough already!

3rd July 2008 - Day 185 by LoulaM
3rd July 2008 - Day 185, a photo by LoulaM on Flickr.
This is the third post in a series on waste....

It was always fun to go to Grandma's house, as was the ritual every Sunday afternoon.  Because it was such a big family there were always several kids to play with, and a big back yard for the obligatory running around.  But one of the attractions of Grandma's on Sundays - or Mondays or Tuesdays or any other day for that matter - was that she made enough dinner for an army.

On countless occasions the dog Hercules could be found chowing down on a pork chop or sirloin steak, because Grandma cooked so much of it that there were 5 extras in addition to his.  And Grandma didn't typically have leftover night.  This wasn't pre-cooking to save time later in the week.  It was overproduction, and a number of her family members still pay the health consequences associated with helping her make it disappear - consequences of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.

In the workplace, overproduction is often missed as a form of waste because it is interpreted as a sign of doing things well, such as:

  • Generating reports and sending them to a wide distribution list that doesn't read them.  There's a story about a large international firm that won't be named here, where an individual in the mail room was given the instruction to weigh the daily load of mail, and then create a report.  The report was sent to 7 layers of management, none of whom could remember seeing it, much less why the report was requested in the first place.   You might assume that it was originally intended as a step in justifying a certain level of mail room staffing, but as of today nobody knows for certain what it was.
  • Writing when verbal communication will suffice.  People and companies sometimes forget the purpose behind the communication and become focused instead of coming up with a way to measure their work output.  Written communication serves as a "CYA" history of productivity, so it's sometimes overused.   In addition, certain tasks need interaction to be effective.  A misunderstanding created in an email or memo can take days or weeks to clear up because of the time delay involved with shooting written communication back and forth.  This can become compounded when the topic has the potential to carry negative emotion along with it.
  • Too much equipment per employee for the amount they use it.  Sure, everyone wants their own printer in their own work space.  It's easier not to have to walk 25 feet to a community printer.  But how often do they actually print documents?  Equipment, especially personal productivity equipment, can be a cultural indicator of relative status inside businesses, so companies can find themselves purchasing several at a time just to make sure nobody complains about fairness or favoritism.  Equipment, even as prices come down as technology advances, can consume a huge chunk of capital when every person has his or her own.  And speaking of technology, the financial and impact of technology changes and rapid obsolescence is magnified when you have to constantly update or replace 25 instead of 5.
Where are the points of overproduction in your company?  In your department?  Are you killing too many trees from the volume of paper output?  Are you swamped by requests for productivity gadgets?  What do you think you want to do about this type of waste in your business?

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