For an employee who has been working hard at their job for many years to now step back and look at their work through the eyes of lean and determine that 99% of what they do day in and day out is not value added in the eyes of the customer… that is a difficult concept to stomach! People question that thinking and say, “hey, I work hard! I work my butt off! And people expect all this stuff that I do, to get done! How can you say it isn’t value added?” The work we’re talking about may be necessary, and it may be important to certain people. But if you truly embrace lean thinking and the concept of continuous improvement, you should always be striving for the ideal state. The state where there is no waste, no errors or defects, the customer is willing to pay for every single second of work that is done to produce the output, and it comes at exactly the right time. In other words, the state where everything is value-added.
Here’s the rub… that is hard to achieve. Really really hard. It may not even feasible. Or necessary! I hate using the words impossible, or never, because I tend to believe you can always achieve something given enough time and resources. But do you really need to invest two million to shave 6.2 seconds off your lead time? Probably not.
If you can get past that initial letdown where you suddenly feel less significant and realize you may not ever reach that ideal state, and then turn around and realize you can sure make a whole heck of a lot of progress towards it, then that’s where kaizen kicks in. You see that there is waste, and you figure out how to eliminate as much of it as you can. And after you eliminate 50% of the waste, you sit there and say, how can I eliminate the next 10%? And the next 5%? I read a great little excerpt from a John Shook LEI newsletter where he relates the story of two sensei discussing the purpose of jishuken, or the concept of kaizen activity, and it boils down to “The purpose of jishuken… is to do jishuken again!” So for me, what I believe, is that by doing kaizen to eliminate waste from the process, you are simply freeing up whitespace to do more kaizen!
So to truly live lean, you must embrace the concept of forever improving on your journey to the ideal state… Forever Kaizen.