There is No Such Thing as Wasteful Work

I read an interesting article today in the Japanese paper Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The topic was how white collar businesses men in Japan are adapting the Toyota Production System, or what we would call lean thinking, to their work. The conclusion is that at the level of principles and concepts, TPS applies just as well to non-manufacturing work as it does to improving how we make things. The important thing is to keep in mind not the tools but the underlying philosophies and behaviors that result in the so-called tools: the deliberately designed systems and processes that make up a lean workplace.
What are these principles and philosophies? Focus on the customer, improvement never ends, make problems visible, go see for yourself, involve everyone and their ideas, remove waste from all processes, and so forth. These ideas apply equally well to all situations. The one thing I took away from this particular article was a quote by Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe during a recent speech:

“There is no such thing as wasteful work in this world. It is either one or the other: work or waste.”

On the one hand this may seem obvious. On the other hand, we spend a lot of time talking about type 1 or type 2 waste and debating “is it non value added or is it waste?” Even the term “value added work” seems redundant when “work” as defined by Mr. Watanabe above implies value, or at least “not waste”. Agreeing on the definitions of waste and work is especially important when improving white collar work because the work itself is less visible than manufacturing. Realizing who our customers are, understanding what things we do which customers value, and then designing how we spend our time in minimizing waste and maximizing work (value) is the essence of good business in any business, by any name.

5 Comments

  1. Harish

    June 16, 2009 - 4:58 pm

    I have a similar take on VA/NVA and NVA but necessary. In my opinion it is either value added or non-value added. If you say non-value added bu necessary, you are practically saying “Well I cannot really do anything about it.” This is against the kaizen school of thought.
    -Harish

  2. Yuji Ota

    June 16, 2009 - 7:31 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I am in charge of promoting TPS for white collar field, especially for software engineering field in my company.
    I completely agree to your opinion that philosophies and behaviors is important, and actually our promotion is based on these two things first. It is, however, difficult to make them understand the importance because I believe this approach is quite new to them.
    rgds,
    Yuji Ota
    Fujitsu JAPAN

  3. maud

    June 17, 2009 - 4:53 am

    I agree with you Harish. I hear it all the time, this process is Non Value Added but necessary’… It’s an easy box to put all end of line testings and just forget about them, rather than developping built-in quality products.
    It’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one to think that…
    Maud

  4. Robert Anderson

    June 19, 2009 - 7:16 am

    When conducting training, I use the distinction between Type I and Type II Muda only to allow people to set priorities on which waste will be attacked first. I always try to steer them towards eliminating a Type II waste before minimizing a Type I waste. It’s akin to traditional manufacturing companies trying to streamline the 5% of VA work they do rather than eliminating the 95% of Muda in their process. Where is the biggest bang for the buck, so to speak.
    Best Regards,
    Robert Anderson

  5. Robert

    July 6, 2009 - 4:05 am

    It is again a very interesting topic from Jon and a very useful discussion! As a consultant, specialized to “lean office” (how i hate this word…) i often hear this “NVA but necessary” in our manufacturing company. It’s origin is that we define our manufacturing activities as VA. The management says, everything else is NVA, but they are necessary for the VA… I think it is a wrong use of the VA/NVA definition. I hope nobody thinks/says that purchasing or HR is NVA but necessary… e.g. to find an employ a good engineer is value!
    Important is, that we can find and eliminate the NVA-activities (waste) in our IT, purchasing, accounting and HR processes. It could be new to office workers but it is possible. And a lot of fun 😀