You can learn a lot about Lean from a garbage can. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s try a case study. Here is a recycling trashcan from my office building, which has two openings for recyclables. Someone has taped a sign over one side that instructs us to “Use this side only when right side is full”. It is only taped on the top edge so you can flip it up very easily. Study it, pause, don’t read ahead, take 2 minutes and extract as much about lean as you can. Think deeply! Then continue reading.
Done? So, here’s what I saw the first time someone pointed this can out to me.
Overprocessing waste – Someone recognized that the can capacity was overdesigned for the area. Both sides were being used, but were not filling up by the time the cleaning crew came around to empty it. There are two separate bins with garbage cans inside, so a crew member had to empty out two half-full, or less than half-full cans every time, even if only a few empty Coke bottles were in one of them. It may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but take x number of cans in the building, x number of minutes to empty and replace the bags, x number of times per month… it does add up to some real time. Cut that time in half and you have opened up whitespace for that crew member to do other value-added work, and likely cut in half the number of bags you use.
Empty Wallet Approach – When this problem was first recognized, one solution could have been to replace all the double trashcans in the building with single ones that were half the size. But that probably would have cost someone some money. They tried a very simple, cheap countermeasure first.
Poke a yoke – Another countermeasure could have been to put a sign up on the wall behind it, stating the guidelines, asking us to follow them. I envision a bag of mixed results with that one. Some people might read it and commit it to habit, but some will walk by and never even read that sign, and just throw their recyclables in either open hole. What are you going to do then – hold a site-wide training session on the most efficient way to use a recyclable bin? Send out a mass email with instructions that most people won’t read? By placing a physical, visual sign over one of the holes, you are error-proofing your countermeasure by preventing someone from just tossing a bottle in the overflow side unless they were to “override” the system.
Knowledge waste – This sign was in place on all the cans I saw in our office location. However, I happened to be walking around in another one of our buildings soon after this and saw the exact same can, but no sign on it. And sure enough, there were bottles in each side. Someone had developed this great countermeasure but they hadn’t shared it with others, and so their fellow employees are still dealing with the waste. So to speak.
Did you think of some other lean concepts while studying the can?