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Benefit of Lean

Is Lean Really Easier?

Let me ask you this question about the benefit of Lean.

Is jogging a mile harder than sprinting a quarter mile?

That’s the basic problem with pitching Lean as making a job easier. It’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison.

Sure, Lean makes tasks easier. But the entire job might actually get more strenuous. This is most common when a job starts with a lot waste of either walking or waiting in it. The hardest parts of the job get improved, but the downtime goes away.

For the company, is it certainly one benefit of Lean, but what about for an individual?

Look at the example of a person who, in a pre-Lean job, worked frantically for fifteen minutes each hour to load a batch of parts into a big machine, and then spent the next 45 minutes monitoring for problems. Or, they might have spent that time walking around delivering parts and gathering up paperwork. Sure, the first quarter of each hour was hard, but the rest of the job didn’t require a lot of exertion.

In a Lean process, the frantic fifteen minutes become more manageable, clearly a benefit of Lean. But the remaining forty-five minutes get filled with other tasks. The waste of walking goes away as the work gets co-located with the upstream and downstream processes. Paperwork gets streamlined, and other similar tasks get eliminated. Jidoka gets people away from the machine they had been watching.

The worker is frequently left with a pace that is much faster than what they were used to, even if it is filled with easy, well-designed work. 

Will every worker see this as a benefit of Lean? No. Some will not.

Just a few tips to think about before you make improvements for people who are not familiar with Lean.

(1) Don’t pitch the work as ‘easier’. The word means different things to different people. Instead, be specific. Talk about eliminating waste, or making specific, strenuous tasks more manageable. If you pitch Lean as making a job easier, and it doesn’t feel easier to the operator, Lean loses credibility.

(2) Get agreement on what portion of an hour should be spent working. In my experience, people will often say they should be working 95% or 100% of the time. In truth, most people don’t come close to that. Think about all the time spent walking to fax machines, waiting for printouts, standing while an assembly line is shifting, walking to supply cabinets, etc. Lots of time isn’t spent working.

It is not uncommon to see 40%, 50%, or even 60% of an hour walking and waiting. Talking about this issue before doing any time studies goes a long way towards preparing people for the changes to come.

(3) Plan on how to prevent burnout. This means job rotation, projects, training, and other means of getting people some variety in their day. Changes like these recharge people and keep them from feeling chronic fatigue.

My parting comments: Some people will not mind the more consistent pace. Some people will absolutely hate it. People value different things at work.

Keep those differences in mind when you are pitching lean. If you ‘sell’ the wrong Lean ‘product’ to a person, they won’t buy. And they might even convince those around them not to buy either.


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