Lean Lessons: Eliminate Waste from Your WorkHow much of your average day feels like wasted time? Can you find ways to eliminate waste?

The principles of lean management offer valuable lessons to help ensure your time is spent on what’s most important to you.

Jamie Flinchbaugh, co-founder of the Lean Learning Center and a contributor to Industry Week, offers some tips on how to eliminate waste in your daily life.

Determine Your Ideal State

Flinchbaugh describes a hotel general manager who defined her ideal state as never having to talk to a guest again.

While that doesn't sound like a good ideal state for the guest business, in this case it was “perfect.” Her interactions with guests were “an escalation of problems,” while her defined value was facilitating more efficient processes for her actual customer (the hotel staff). Waste was anything that wasn't helping her serve that end.

Review Your Current State

According to iSixSigma, seven wastes underlie all unprofitable activities within your organization:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Transportation
  • Waiting
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Processing

These seven wastes “provide a lens and a language to identify and eliminate waste in your own work,” Flinchbaugh notes. Adapting the definition of the seven wastes in this way generates questions like these to answer:

  • Are there tasks I often have to rework?
  • Do I perform tasks long before they’re needed, while other tasks are late?
  • How many handoffs exist in my work?
  • Does the work I do lie dormant waiting for other tasks to be completed?
  • How long is my queue of work tasks?
  • How much time do I spend looking for information?
  • Am I doing more than is necessary, such as writing “three-paragraph emails where one sentence will suffice?”

Track specific examples of waste in your daily work, and identify their causes. That way, Flinchbaugh says, “You can make choices about the best opportunity to improve.”

Devise Specific Solutions for Situations of Waste

Applying broad solutions to waste in your day won’t work. Look for specific instances where you can eliminate waste.

An executive was constantly being besieged by his team for “small bits of information—a status update or small change in direction,” Flinchbaugh reports. To address this wasteful process, the executive created a visual management system, and held 15-minute meetings every day to discuss status and priorities with his staff.

Since virtually anything requiring small bits of information was addressed in these meetings, the executive’s email traffic was cut by 80 percent, “a significant reduction in waste.”

Build Personal Systems to Eliminate Waste

Waste tends to creep back in when you’re not looking. To counter this trend, Flinchbaugh says, establish “standard work” to assure your week is spent on the most valuable tasks.

The most important result? The time you save when you eliminate waste can be “reinvested” in new opportunities for improvement in your work.

Where can you eliminate waste in your daily work?