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The ninth waste of LEAN

Posted: October 20, 2016 at 10:40 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

Lean Project Manager at Kongsberg Maritime

ave you searched for anything on a server or your computer lately? You know the piece of information, document, data string or picture is somewhere, but only that it is just that. “Somewhere”.

Well known in Lean and Lean Six Sigma circles are the original seven wastes of Lean or the seven Mudas. These originals are defects, overproduction, transportation, waiting, inventory, motion, and processing. After working a few years with value stream mappings and metrics, lean and six sigma specialists discovered the eight waste; non-utilized talent. As a part of my everyday work, I coach and facilitates groups and project teams in these eight wastes. No one have expressed any need to extend that list, but rather shorten it. Then, on a seminar I talked to SEMCO’s main lean authority Sverre Weisteen, and he challenged me to consider a ninth waste by simply asking me: “When was the last time you had to search for a document on your PC or on a server.?” He then challenged me to count how many times I do search for a document or information during a week. I got the point. As I use a templates and ready-made PowerPoints in workshops, training sessions and speeches I do not search that much for information myself, but I immediately included the ninth waste in training sessions and workshops. Most, if not all of the audiences do relate to this waste source at once. Everyone searches for documents and information and everyone realizes that this is a rather wasteful thing to do.

Important notice here: Do not confuse wasteful searching for information you know is somewhere with collecting information in order to make qualified decision. They both steals time, but one is obviously more wrong than the other is.

The waste of searching for information is not new knowledge. A McKinsey report [a] stated that employees spend 19% of their time searching. An extreme interpretation of this figure tells me that in a medium to large size company 20% of their employees just searches. While the waste of searching is not new knowledge, the awareness of the problem may not be in place.

A case of enforced awareness

What can we obtain by increasing the awareness? A subdivision seasoned in lean and always chasing improvements, asked me to help with a survey on the waste sources. We included searching as a ninth independent waste source. A simple survey were created, and participants were asked to put properties such as occurrence, severity, examples and probable solution to each waste source. We omitted personal data, but kept records of department, in order to direct corrective measures. The feedback we got were significantly larger than the average diet pill “scientific papers” referred to in commercials.

Not entirely surprising the search waste ended up as the second worst waste source. This was consistent across sub-departments. I asked them if they had recently implemented any new IT-systems, had higher than usual workload, or if anything else was new, changed or unusual the past 6 month. The answer was no. Everything was normal. In the survey we asked the employees to give examples on each waste source, they had experienced, and the answers given indicated that the employees found it easy to find examples on the search waste. Rather commonplace and banal things came up. The feedback showed that the occurrence was perceived as 12% more important than the severity, but still well below the 19% time thief addressed in the KcKinsey report [a].

From the comments given one should think that the data governance is absent.

  • “Who owns this account?”
  • “Who is responsible for updating this document?”
  • “Which information should be stored where?”
  • “Poor google functionality!”

Although the data governance cannot be described as clear as a crisp autumn day in the mountain, the overall data governance model is good. Is the governance poor communicated? Maybe, but making a manual for all kinds of data, with all kinds of storage is not feasible nor maintainable. We can see indications that the users want a single source of data, instead of using several system. Here is a problem. A single source for all data is not exactly 2016. We have to predate e-mail to see something like that. Dreaming of one common source for all data is just that, a dream. Information governance or data governance is not there to keep IT engineers employed. It is there for a reason. The ecology of data systems is vast, and much like bacteria cells with enough nutrition, it becomes exponential vaster for each generation.

In the same survey, we asked the employees to give proposals to fix the waste sources, or at least improve them. Without mentioning Poka-Yoke or facilitating as such, their suggestions for improvements were down that road. Automation, facilitation as well as simplification. In other words, core lean values for the continuous improvement whiteboards by just enforcing awareness on the search waste source.

Use the Ninth Waste as an icebreaker

In introductions at the beginning of a lean project, I emphasize on building confidence and thrust among the project members. I also need to build something between the project members and myself as the facilitator. The ninth waste has the potential to be a humoristic icebreaker and introduction to a small conversation. I can point at anyone in the audience and ask the person to give an example, and the person can do that knowing that everybody else in the room has a similar example. That works well. In a value stream analysis, it is also very easy to address search issues. In my experience, it is, in the crucial initial phase, easier to reach people when we can discuss obvious problems, and something they all can relate to.

What have I learned from the study and implementing the ninth source? It may not be in accordance to all lean theory, and some other waste sources can cover the findings, but I choose not to be dogmatic. Lean does not suit a dogmatic approach. When using search waste as a specific waste source helps the sponsors and projects to become leaner, with less effort, then we just do that.


About the author:


Rune Holmen is in continuous improvement at the more than 200 years old international technology group Kongsberg Gruppen. He guides and trains the company’s skilled professionals to improve their value stream in projects, both internal and to customers, and guides departments in their relentless hunt for improvements. The company has their own internal brand for continuous improvement, based on generic lean six sigma. Rune has an education in cybernetics and work experience from a wide range of departments and roles as the company. Rune has had defining roles in IT solution such as CRM, BPM, quality management system, knowledge management and automated workflow. View Runes full profile at Linkedin.


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