Everyday Lean…Continuous Flow

By: Ronette Kersting

A pet peeve…WAITING (particularly in traffic)! 

Waiting is considered one of the “8 Wastes of Lean”.  Lean thinking aims to remove waste.  What is “waste” you may ask?  In Lean, waste is defined as any action or step in a process that does not add value to the customer.  Essentially, waste is any unnecessary step that does not benefit the customer.  The original seven wastes were developed by Taiichi Ohno, the Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). The seven wastes are Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, and Defects. The 8th waste of non-utilized talent or ‘Skills’ of workers was later introduced in the 1990s when the Toyota Production System was adopted in the Western world.1

Waiting is typically easily recognizable, however other types of waste can be more difficult to identify and sometimes remain unnoticed.  Waiting can be the result of bottlenecks, but the causes of said bottlenecks can be varied.  Sometimes other forms of waste like inefficient transportation, overproduction, or excessive inventory can indirectly cause waste due to waiting.

Waste due to waiting is prevalent in many different environments such as manufacturing, office settings, business processes, and personal activities.  Some examples of waiting for include:

  • Project budget changes and/or delays
  • Machine taking longer to complete its stage in the manufacturing process than the other stations in the process
  • Poor interdepartmental communication
  • Employees waiting for manager approvals

Back to my favorite pet peeve…waiting in traffic.  There is nothing worse than the mindless act of stopping at red stoplights only to hurry up and wait at the next stoplight a few blocks later.  This is especially frustrating when there is no cross traffic.  This process creates both waiting and batching (inventory) waste.

 

A potential traffic solution, however, that promotes continuous flow is traffic roundabouts.  Due to their design, these circles force all vehicles to reduce speed, encourage continuous movement, yield to oncoming traffic, and proceed forward when space is available.  This design allows for continuous flow and minimizes backup of cars (inventory). Traffic roundabouts are one of my favorite flow management devices.  There is a physical WIP limit, yet they are visual.  Traffic flow is one-way thus only requiring the driver to look to the left for oncoming traffic.  If there is a gap, that is the “pull signal” that you can move forward as there is capacity in the system.  They operate on simple rules.

Roundabouts promote a continuous flow of traffic and batch size reduction, both of which are important Lean concepts.  They provide value to the customer by providing an adaptable process that allows cars to get to their destinations more quickly (reduces wait time thus overall lead time), allows more cars t­­o move through an intersection in the same amount of time (increases throughput), and reduces the incidence and severity of traffic collisions (improves overall safety).  Sounds like “winner winner chicken dinner” to me!

Remember, lean is a philosophy of small continuous improvements to eliminate waste.  These improvement initiatives and learning opportunities are all around us, not only in manufacturing environments but in everyday life.  “Lean In”, open your eyes and embrace the lessons around you.  Lean thinking is not just a business tool, it is a culture, a way of life (more on that on an upcoming blog…stay tuned).

  1. https://theleanway.net/The-8-Wastes-of-Lean
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