Friday, December 27, 2002

Single Piece Flow, in the Snow

As I started removing the 7" of new fallen snow covering my driveway on Christmas morning, I got to thinking about value-adding and non-value adding activities. What would a truly lean system look like? While it was tempting to think that the best system would be to go get my neighbor's snow blower, what could I do without any outlay of cash?

I had to first understand value. In this case, I was the customer. I valued a clean driveway, all the way to the street. A partially cleared driveway did me no good. I had to clear a path for one car and then the path for the other.

I had to make every movement count. The chief of the eight wastes on the driveway was movement waste...unneeded walking. So, I began to think how I could add value with every movement.

Ergonomics then became clearer. With a value-based premise, I realized I also had to value my work force, which in this case was me. Particularly my back. I realized that I could add value and balance the work strain by alternating a big scoop with a light scoop, from the left side of my body and then the right side.

Steady is faster than hurried, if it flows. I found I was making very good progress, when I made every movement count. "Be quick, but never hurry" as John Wooden coached his famous teams at UCLA.

Engaging the mind sped the task. By thinking carefully about simply scooping snow, the task became much more enjoyable. This is a little-talked-about advantage of a lean system. By always thinking about how to improve, the task (oftentimes menial) takes on new meaning and value.

The bottom line... I got my driveway clean in the same time as my neighbor who had his two twenty-something sons helping him. I didn't take my cell phone to the driveway for example and I kept moving. High-priced labor, thinking lean, beats the masses of cheap labor that doesn't.

Lean applications are everywhere. I hope this is helpful...and brings you a smile. Feel free to forward to a friend.

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