Driving Out Waste for a Better 2012

By | January 17, 2012

I was looking for some inspiration in this New Year; a way to look differently at the world of process improvement that I live in. I especially wanted to make it relate better to those that are often the most difficult to convince of the desirability, even “good-ness” of processes, those in the “front end” of a business: customer service, purchasing, IT, project managers, estimators, salespeople, designers, marketers, etc.

I use some great tools and a great methodology for business process improvement, and the reason that I like them is that they are simple. It does not mean that they don’t take some time and effort to use effectively and gain the maximum benefit. Everything worthwhile takes a certain amount of commitment.

I grabbed a book off my shelf that I had not looked at in a while. It is an old book, in business book terms, but it has not aged. It is called “Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster”, by Bill Jensen. I randomly opened to one of the many pages with a corner I’d folded over and came across this:


Guess again. Think practical . . . think sewers. Thanks to the Seine, the Romans called Paris Lutetia: City of Mud. French novelist Victor Hugo devoted 15 pages in Les Miserables to Paris’ sewers. Why? More growth, more waste. And at some point, waste removal had as much impact as social, cultural, and political forces.

“. . . At some point, content becomes waste. So content design has to include waste removal. Have you designed a sewer system? Is the process for getting rid of content as easy as flushing a corporate-wide e-toilet? . . . Without hassle-free procedures and tools, you are forcing knowledge workers to swim in their own waste.”

Well, that paints quite a picture for me. In process improvement, efficient elimination, (no pun intended), of the superfluous, outdated, and difficult is as important as the improved process itself. Every day, when they see barriers, people use workarounds to get things done in their jobs. Sometimes these workarounds, shortcuts, and “stealth” actions have become, in fact, the best ways to accomplish certain tasks. It’s up to those of us who facilitate process improvement to recognize and coax these informal improvements out of the shadows in the corners, be happy that improvements are happening around us, and rapidly flush the old processes down the corporate e-toilet.

Processes, done well, simplify.

We all need a jump-start now and then. What are some sources of inspiration for you in driving out waste or improving processes in your area of your company?

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One thought on “Driving Out Waste for a Better 2012

  1. Tim Dalton

    Hi Andrea,

    Nice piece! I’ve been working on this for many years. Wrote a (not very good) book on it for NAPL about 12 years ago. In my bathroom at home we have a sign over the toilet that’s a box. It came with a promotional copy of a book called Waste Chasers by Bill Conway. It’s all black with large block letters reversed out. Says “Eliminate Waste Forever”.

    I really like what you say about capturing the actual work that is done, rather than “pie in the sky” theoretical constructs. It’s such a great basis for improvement, because people will work to improve things that are a product of their own knowledge, experience and initiative.

    Thanks again! Shoot me an email and we should talk some time. I’m in New Jersey now, doing consulting on quality and waste reduction and FSC Chain-of-Custody audits on the side.

    Tim Dalton

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