June 1, 2015
Andrea Sponsel, RID, IIDA, EDAC, LEAN SIX SIGMA CE, LEED AP

I’m celebrating my fifth Anniversary with lean this year, and oh what a journey it has been.  To say it’s changed my life would be an understatement.  I have always believed that collaboration, having the right people in the room at the right time and eliminating waste were great ways to work.  With that as my base, learning about lean and the root of the philosophy “maximizing customer value by minimizing waste,” made sense.  I will say again, it makes sense, but it wasn’t easy.  To truly embrace this new way of life, you must be willing to take a hard look at what you do every day with a critical eye.  Just because you have a clean desk, you’re organized and you meet project deadlines doesn’t mean you live a life with zero waste.  

To begin to eliminate waste, you must first understand what it is.  It is an activity that does not change the resulting information or product.  It is something that is not done right the first time. It is something the customer does not care about or is not willing to pay for.  Most of the lean education materials refer to eight types of deadly waste: under-utilized talent, inventory, motion, waiting, transportation, defects, overproduction and overprocessing. It seems extreme to call them “deadly,” but with all of them existing in our work and home lives, it can be exhausting and expensive. 

Here are a few examples of the efforts I’ve made to eliminate waste, resulting in a big impact. The easiest place to start is probably in your home; there are fewer people to teach this new philosophy to.  I shop for groceries every week. With two boys under the age of five, we go through a lot of fruit and milk.  Every Saturday morning, I would pull out a fresh piece of paper and write the same things on it, milk, strawberries, bananas, bread, etc.  I would then drive to the store and dream of all of the wonderful things I would cook for my family that week and fill my cart with reckless abandon.  By Monday evening, reality had set in and I realized we were only going to be home as a family to eat three nights that week.  On Friday (trash day), I was throwing away moldy strawberries, rotten bananas and pouring out half a gallon of expired milk.  Something had to change.  A co-worker showed me her meal planning board. Brilliant!  Let’s talk as a family about the week’s schedule and make a realistic plan. 

Now on to the grocery list.  Why write the same things every week, or forget to check the Goldfish stock before you leave for the store.  Preprint your list to use as an inventory checklist before you go and arrange it to follow the floor plan of the grocery store.  You won’t buy more than you need and you won’t have to backtrack to the bread aisle because it was at the bottom of the list.  You’re now on your way to saving time and money at home.

Eliminating waste at work can be a bit more challenging - there are more people to teach, and some can be pretty good at disguising waste (including me).  There are things we were taught in design school and in our careers that we have accepted and adapted to.  Thinking about the tasks in a new way or as a process improvement team can give you a new perspective.  You may also discover that the person or department you were doing the work for never looked at that information.  The healthcare interiors group assembled a process improvement team to see how each office was working.  We all completed our jobs, with nearly the same end result, but used variations of the same tools along the way.  We were losing valuable time to collaborate and design by being bogged down with waste.  The process improvement team brought together a range of offices, talent and experience to suggest ways for future improvement.  We implemented monthly Brown Bags to discuss the latest standard forms and documentation standards we were creating.  We established a common file server with a folder structure that is quicker and easier to navigate.  Most of all, it has given us a platform to collaborate and challenge each other to improve what we do.

I encourage everyone to take a moment and think about something you do every day and how you can improve it.  I guarantee it will be an enlightening experience, and will give you the inspiration and drive for continuous improvement. 

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