Simply stated, Lean is the process of continuously improving any system of activities with the objective of maximizing ‘value’. Value, of course, from the point of view of customer.

So with this context a system of activities will always have two kinds of activities:

  1. Activities that the customer thinks are valuable.
  2. Activities that the customer will consider non valuable and if costed distinctly will never agree to pay for them.
    • For example, the extra labor cost that went into the price of a chair when it was wrongly made at first and then was repaired. Naturally, if you present this case to the customer and ask him to pay you for that repair, he will never agree and will become unhappy and dissatisfied.

Lean management, although got its foundations built in a pure manufacturing environment (starting in the automotive industry in the beginning of the 20th century), but the principles were universal and are now applied to variety of industries far from any direct manufacturing activity. Lean is getting very popular nowadays even in the service industry, like, in Education and Healthcare.

So, we have two type of activities in a system:

  1. Valuable
  2. Waste

More technically named as:

  1. Value-added
  2. Non-value-added

But let’s forget the technical names, not important here. Some really intelligent guys identified that the activities that are ‘waste’ are of two types based on their ‘effect’ (and not cause):

  1. Tangible Waste
  2. Non-tangible Waste

Well, they defined it in some technical terms: (Muda and Mura & Muri). But, forget the technical terms.

The tangible wastes are easy to understand as they are visible and immediately noticeable. Let’s see some examples:

  • rework and repairs
  • moving from one point to the other, either by a person or a physical/digital element of a system (digital element means information or documents moved electronically).
  • an element of system that is ‘sitting idle’ and ‘waiting’ for some process to be done on it.

Non-tangible Wastes are a little tricky since they are not immediately visible and noticeable. You will understand this from the following examples:

  • Uneven distribution of workload over a period of time can be one example. For instance, if a person has 4 hours of work time and he has workload distribution like this:
    1. First hour – work worth the full one hour
    2. Second hour – work worth only 20 minutes
    3. Third hour – work worth 40 minutes
    4. Fourth hour – work worth 1 hour 10 minutes
  • The person had a total workload worth of 3 hours 10 minutes. Oh, he was under-loaded! But he was actually subjected to something called ‘unevenness’ which is a big cause of workplace distress, a non-tangible Waste. Well, I am keeping it simple here for understanding, let’s not go into other multiple factors in-play.
  • One other shade of unevenness is when it exists among different persons. I mean, if you consider the above example with 4 different persons with different workloads, however, sharing a common workplace. You can understand the level of distress of the person loaded with work worth 1 hour 10 minutes.

I am sure you must have noticed by now that how you can load a person with work worth 1 hour 10 minutes and ask to complete in 1 hour. Well, don’t we observe this happening around us everyday? This is the other kind of non-tangible Waste and this again results in huge amounts of individual distress and spread of anxiety in the workplace. This is Overloading.

Just image the amount of chaos in a workplace where there is both ‘Unevenness’ and ‘Overloading’. What amount of tangible Waste will result out of this non-tangible Waste? Oh my God …

Now let’s revisit our simple definition of lean:

Lean is the process of continuously improving any system of activities with the objective of maximizing ‘value’. Value, of course, from the point of view of customer.

So, now you know what a waste is … from the customer’s point of view. Of course, customer will not want to pay for the hours when your staff was sitting idle and doing nothing. In the same way, the customer will also not want to pay for a poor quality output from the person that was overloaded and severely distressed.

Now we have a context …

Let me share some basic information from my personal experience that I had a few days back, when I had to renew one of my Cards.

Before going into details, first of all let me present some simple mathematics.

  • Total duration from Home-to-Home in the whole process = 2 hour 23 minutes
  • Total duration inside the Card Registration Office = 1 hour 53 minutes
  • Who was the customer = Me
  • Total valuable duration
    • = 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 + 11 (these are activity # as shown in the process flow diagram below)
    • = 3 sec + 3 min + 1 min + 3 min + 2 min + 2 min
    • = 11 minutes 3 seconds
  • Total waste duration
    • = 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 + 10 (these are activity # as shown in the process flow diagram below)
    • = 1 hour 34 min + 1 min + 1 min + 2 min + 4 min
    • = 1 hour 42 min
Valuable : Waste

663 seconds : 6,120 seconds

1 : 9.2

10% : 90%

Analysis is kept simple for general understanding …