Let's play Lean

Have you ever wondered what’s meant by „lean production“? It’s supposed to improve how stuff gets produced, be that shoes, cars, or even software. Production is supposed to flow smoothly.

The seven kinds of waste

In order to accomplish that, lean thinking revolves around removing impediments of any kind and reducing waste. There are even seven kinds of waste (called jap. muda):

  • Transport
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over-processing
  • Over-production
  • Defects

Good to know. But what does that mean for your type of work? What is „motion“ or „transport“ in software development, for example? Ok, we sure know what „defects“ are ;-)

Even though I like the lean approach very much, I sometimes find it hard to apply it to a new domain. Translating the kinds of waste requires some creativity…

Lean you can listen to

So I have been on the lookout for a simple explanation of what lean is all about. What’s its essence? Finally, though, I think I have come about one that’s easy to understand for just about anybody.

It’s pretty old already. And can you guess who has invented this simple explanation? The BBC did! Unwittingly, of course. Already in 1967! Can you believe it?

Back then they introduced a radio show called „Just a Minute“. In this show panellists in turn were supposed to talk about a given subject for 60 seconds. And the point is: without hesitation, deviation, or repetition!

That’s it! That’s lean!

Listen to this episode of „Just a Minute“ to get a feeling for it:

Can you see, I mean, can you hear it?

The three activities to avoid

Lean is, when something gets produced

  • without hesitation,
  • without deviation,
  • and without repetition.

In the case of the BBC radio show that’s an explanation or story. The panellist is supposed to advance at a steady pace through the subject. Production of information or entertainment should be continuous; each moment the maximum value according to the capacity of the panellist should be produced.

Any hesitation would reduce the value produced within the timeframe of one minute. If the panellist graples for words, doesn’t really know how to move the story forward, then the flow stagnates. Precious time is wasted.

Any deviation, too, reduces the value produced. Although the panellist is still producing something it’s not what’s expected of him/her. Precious time is wasted.

Finally, any repetition also reduces the value produced. Again the panellist is active – but he/she is doing the same again. More of the same, though is not needed once what’s needed has been said. Better to move the explanation forward by saying something new. Otherwise precious time is wasted.

Validating the BBC's definition

This sounds reasonable, I hope. But let’s double check by mapping the BBC’s definition of lean to the official kinds of waste:

  • Transport: Deviation. Instead of finishing the product it (or parts of it) is moved around.
  • Inventory: Hesitation. Instead of actually delivering the product (or parts of it) to whoever needs it, it’s put on some heap.
  • Motion: Deviation. Instead of working on the product someone is active on an unrelated matter.
  • Waiting: Hesitation. Working on the product is delayed by some unavailability of material or knowledge or tool or signal.
  • Over-processing: Repitition. More of the same is done with a product, although that’s not required. (In software development that’s called gold plating.)
  • Over-production: Repitition. More of the same is produced, although that’s not required.
  • Defects: Hesitation. Defects cause delay because time either has to be invested into repairing them or even throwing away low quality products and starting anew.

If you’re still trying to come to grips with lean, listen to „Just a Minute“. Or even better: play a round or two of „Just a Minute“ with your team; include management, if you can. It will make it very, very tangible what lean means – and give everyone a feeling for what to look out for and/or how difficult it can be to actually implement a leanness.

Just remember: No deviation, hesitation, repetition!

(Bildquelle: Audible)

This article was updated on 29.01.2021