Lean Series: Eliminating Waste at Home, the Office, & Beyond

A few weeks ago, I attended a work seminar on the basic principles of lean manufacturing. What’s lean manufacturing, you ask? At its core, it’s a systematic process designed to improve workplace productivity by eliminating all types of waste, resulting in reduced lead-time and increased customer satisfaction. Basically, it’s a crazy awesome way to efficiently produce higher quality products and boost business revenue.

For the next several weeks, we’ll dive in to some of lean’s major principles and explore the strategies we can use to successfully implement the lean ideology into our busy lives. First, let’s take a look at one of the most important components – the 8 process wastes of lean – and how they can change the way you look at almost everything you do.

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Under the lean ideology, the elimination of “waste” does not refer to physical trash we throw away. Rather, “waste” represents anything and everything that does not provide value to the customer. In an interview with our company president, Matt Bulloch, he labeled waste as any type of annoyance that exists within the workplace environment. Those “annoyances” are categorized into 8 different buckets: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilization of talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra processing. By systematically fixing the annoyances that exist within these 8 categories, you continuously improve every essence of your business.

Lean was initially developed for manufacturers by manufacturers. But it applies to all workplace environments, including creative offices and agencies, and almost every aspect of our lives. My house, for example, (and probably your house, too) is covered in “waste” and lacking lean best practices.

Think about your kitchen. What steps do you take to make a cup of coffee? Literally, what are the physical steps you take to brew coffee? Where do you store the coffee grounds, the mugs, the brewer, and the filters? If you’re anything like me, your coffee grounds are in the pantry, your mugs are stored in the top cupboard with all the other cups, your brewer is on the opposite side of the kitchen, and your filters are next to the tinfoil and plastic bags. In other words, my coffee-making materials are scattered all over the place, resulting in a whole lot of excess motion in the morning.

This is a great example of waste in the form of motion. Every morning, I take way more steps than necessary to make a single cup of coffee. My FitBit might appreciate the extra movement, but my morning time-crunch does not. The fix – store all my coffee materials in one collective area in the kitchen. Why are my filters next to the tinfoil on the top shelf of my pantry? That’s dumb, they should be next to the coffee grounds, which should be near the coffee mugs, which should be next to the coffee maker. The less movement I make, the more time I save and the more efficient my kitchen arrangement becomes.

If you’re feeling extra motivated (and lean!) after rethinking your coffee-making routine, create a physical checklist of instructions on how to properly brew a cup of coffee in your home. We’ll explore this concept further in our next blog post, but consider how helpful instructional checklists are for you, your spouse, your children, and even your houseguests.

Similar scenarios might take place in your laundry room – do you over produce dirty laundry? Do you wait until the end of the week to tackle your overflowing hamper, or do you spread out the workload over the entire week so that overproduction never becomes an issue? Something to think about, right?

What about your office desk? Are any of your essential office items defected? Does your stapler need more staples? Does your semi-broken chair give you anxiety every time you sit down? Does your computer refuse to connect to the office printer? Those are all prime examples of waste in the form of defects. Instead of waiting for someone else to fix your problems for you, get up and do something about it the moment something becomes defective. The longer you wait to fix the problem, the less likely it is to get fixed.

“Being lean isn’t like a lightening bolt hitting your home. It’s doing hundreds of little things consistently overtime to create incremental improvements,” says Matt. “You’re not turning people into robots; you’re freeing up the administrative uncertainty so people can conduct their best work.”

Successful use of lean techniques boils down to a single shift in mindset. When we take the time to adjust inefficiencies, whether they’re at home or in the office, we eliminate the annoyances that get in the way of flow and productivity, resulting in a cycle of continuous improvement.

Now, go reorganize your kitchen, get rid of some waste, and stay tuned for our next blog post featuring lean’s standard work ideology!

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