Eliminating Waste in the Workplace
Waste is a productivity killer. Physical waste gets in the way of your workers and takes up space that could be allocated toward other production activities. And that’s just physical. Waste also comes in a number of different forms that might be outside of the scope of our colloquial, layman’s definition.
In Lean manufacturing, for example, there are actually seven types of waste that are identified. That’s right, seven. Briefly, they are as follows:
The first is defective product, which wastes your time and production materials. The second is overproduction, which leads to unused product. Next is transportation, which, when done inefficiently, can waste time and fuel. Next comes waiting, in which people are standing around due to a lack in continuity or a bottleneck in the production process. Next comes motion, which involves workers needing to unnecessarily move from place to place to shift products between production stages. Finally, we have processing, which involves the way in which our processes are designed. An example of over-processing would be relying too heavily on inspections instead of designing the production chain to self-regulate throughout.
In some way, any wasteful process probably commits one or more of these “seven deadly sins” of waste. In this blog post, we’re going to look at five ways in which you can start to systematically eliminate waste from your workplace. With practice, this should allow you to slim down your production costs. These trimmings add up, and can then be used to further expansion, other improvements, or even make timely holiday bonuses!
5 Tips Towards Eliminating Waste
1. Make Your Production Green
I know, I know, there’s a good chance that I’ve got a collective reader eye roll going already when the first suggestion contains a cliché about “going green.” That said, if the eco-efficiency of your production hasn’t been brought up to speed yet, you’re behind the curve.
Years ago, the thought of making your production eco friendly or what we think of as ‘green’ today was forward thinking and innovative. Today, it’s industry standard in most sectors and borderline expected. But the benefits of going green are becoming larger and larger, and they extend beyond the most obvious (reducing your energy bills, for example).
In addition, government and industry regulation agencies commonly offer tax credits and other financial incentives to companies that can prove they’ve gone green in their officers, production facilities, etc. One of the biggest barriers to making such a transition for most companies is cost – replacing machines with more efficient ones, changing the ways in which your dispose of waste, etc. can mean some hefty upfront costs. Luckily, savings over time combined with financial incentives can help to offset that costs, and with enough time you’ll always come out ahead. Remember, this is a long game, and shortsightedness will only leave you further in the dust.
2. Employ Super Heroes
One of the biggest efficiency killers in any industry, whether office or warehouse based, is the inability of employees to solve problems on their own. When employees have to routinely stop what they’re doing until they get an answer or assistance from a superior, time is wasted as workers are basically stood in place waiting. Sometimes management response is seamless, while sometimes another task taking up their attention might further exacerbate the time lost.
Further complicating the issue is that there are a couple of ways in which this lack of empowerment happens. It could be that a lack of training or intuition simply means that a worker or workers don’t have the ability to fix a problem. Even worse, though, is when frivolous policy might be the barrier. For example, a worker might be perfectly knowledgeable enough to make a decision, but company policy leaves it in the hands of someone else.
Either way, these types of bottlenecks waste huge amounts of time as they add up month after month, year after year. Work to give your employees the training and tools they need to actively and seamlessly problem solve and make decisions on the job, and try to remove any administrative obstacles to doing so.
3. Use Mapping Tools To Root Out Bottlenecks
If you’ve studied much in the realm of Lean or Six Sigma, you’re probably familiar with many of the visual mapping tools that are employed – things like value stream maps, flow and tree charts, and more. Even if you’ve never touched an LSS (Lean Six Sigma) book in your life, don’t worry, the ideas here are simple but powerful.
One of the reasons businesses struggle for so long with unresolved bottlenecks and efficiency problems is that they don’t actually know exactly what their problem is in the first place. One way to get a handle on where your problems are occurring and get ahead of the game is to map out your business step by step.
Start by actually drawing a top down view of your facilities, assign a box to represent each machine or stage of production; be sure to include arrows that show where to and from items, people, etc. are flowing.
Next you’re going to want to actually assign some numbers to each of these boxes. Make note of things like….
- How many items per hour/day/week/month are produced there
- How many complaints, incidents, or repairs happen there
Through doing this, you’ll be able to create a profile of the most and least efficient parts of your business. You can use this information over time to figure out where you should prioritize your efforts regarding things like training, machine repair and replacement, number of employees per station, and more.
4. Find Equilibrium
Inventory is one of the more controversial waste kinds on the Lean list because many businesses use inventory to accommodate fluctuations in demand, etc. Sometimes, however, constant inventory just means you’re always over-producing, and thus creating waste. Sometimes, it means products sit for months on end without being used. In rare cases, depending on the industry, this might even mean that products are outdated or unusable and have to be thrown out!
Closely evaluating your seasonal trends to better anticipate demand numbers can help you to keep closer to equilibrium and from wasting materials, time, and money on unneeded stock. Depending on the business you’re in and how quick your production cycle is, you may even be able to achieve the ideal: A system in which items are made-to-order and your business makes precisely the amount of units requested by buyers.
5. Change Early, Change Often
The last big piece of advice I can offer you is to make sure that you’re never too hung up on any one process or way of doing things to be willing to change it. Just as in the example of businesses who haven’t started “going green” yet, there’s a definite truth to the adage that one must “adapt or die.”
Business is ever-changing, and the technology and techniques that allow us to be more efficient and improve production also change. New discoveries and theories are tested all the time, while more efficient and safer machinery is rolled out to match it.
You don’t need to jump on everything at first mention, but when a trend makes sense to you and for your business model, try to ride it rather than chasing it – you might just find yourself leading the way!