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Nagara is a Japanese term meaning ‘while doing something’. It simply means to do more than one thing at a time. For example, a two parts may be fitted together as they are clamped into a welding fixture. Or, a person may be able to assemble two parts while walking.

In practice, though, the application of the nagara principle is limited. In most cases, a process takes a person’s full attention. Operating a piece of machinery while doing something else can even be dangerous. It takes some careful process design to combine tasks.

Don’t confuse changing tasks in rapid succession with nagara. Good process design limits idle time and separates people from machines. While it looks like a person is doing two things, in reality, the machine is doing one, and the person is doing another.

Opportunities for nagara in the office are even more limited. Consider a person working on a project while attending a teleconference. That person is often distracted, and does not pay full attention to either task. He may miss something important, or will require clarification and repetition, wasting the time of all the attendees. The most common example of nagara in the office is within computer programs. A shipping label may be printed at the same time that a notification is sent to a customer.

A word of caution: when using nagara, be certain that the combination of tasks does not create more waste. If the combination of tasks adds to defects, for example, the efficiency gains are artificial.

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