What is needed is a total management system in which human ability is drawn out fully to enhance the fruitfulness and utilize the facilities and machines well, performing the work with absolute elimination of waste. – Taiichi Ohno
I’ve been thinking about waste in recent days – especially when it comes to knowledge work.
But what really is waste, and how do you start to think about dealing with it?
Taiichi Ohno is well known for his work on the Toyota Production System and his concepts around eliminating waste.
What that means is getting what you need in the amount you need it when you need it.
Most of the world still operates on a “push” principle – you try and get people to buy what you are selling.
A “pull” method creates things when people want it and that’s actually a really hard thing to get your head around.
Think of the business you are in right now – how do you go about marketing and selling your services?
If you’re like most people you think about new sales – about the people you need to bring in to get your numbers up.
And it’s hard work selling to new people – it takes time and effort and money.
What would be a much better situation is if people pulled your services when they needed it – when they’re looking around for what you offer.
Now I know there are businesses who are very good at getting their marketing right, whether online or offline.
But for every one of those businesses there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others who struggle.
That’s partly because tactics only work as long as no one else knows how to use them – as they become more successful more people copy them and reduce the impact of the tactic.
There was a time when spam email worked – but for most of us that kind of approach is unlikely to cause us to respond.
If we do want to grow our businesses the thing we probably need to do is understand our existing customers better – and try and eliminate waste in the way we serve them.
For example, how often do you end up making the wrong thing for a customer because you didn’t take the time to really understand what they needed.
All too often people try and guess what others need rather than taking the time to ask them and then write down what they say in their own words.
The minute you start to change the words they have uttered a game of “Chinese whispers” starts and you end up very quickly with something very different to what you started with.
Then there is the waste involved in waiting for something – you send an email and then because no one responds you don’t follow up.
After all, you’ve done your job so that’s ok right?
Equally wasteful is doing far too much for a customer – creating a ninety page powerpoint when a three page one would have done.
In knowledge work another kind of waste is the kind that happens when a leader issues orders.
A leader’s views will be implemented by subordinates no matter how wasteful they are – and they can be very wasteful indeed.
The thing that I’m starting to realise is just how much work is done by well meaning, driven and conscientious individuals that they do very well – but should not be done at all.
In an ideal world you would take the time to listen closely to your customer and build them exactly what they needed.
And by doing that, by eliminating the wasted activity that’s usually involved in businesses, you would give them the best product or service possible at the lowest possible price.
Because the thing about waste is that someone is paying for it.
Either you’re paying for it out of your profits or your customer is paying for it in their price.
Either way someone is losing.
And that’s a waste.