Make Lean Work For You!

By Ron Pereira Updated on May 17th, 2017

I just got off the phone with a gentleman struggling to apply lean concepts in his workplace.

This person — let’s call him Jeff — works in a distribution environment meaning he doesn’t produce widgets for a living.

One of the lean concepts Jeff was struggling with was value stream mapping. In order to help him I asked a few questions and sensed he was getting stuck on how to deal with the yellow inventory icons drawn between process steps.

Stumped by Inventory Icons

You see, in Jeff’s case, he doesn’t really have WIP piling up between process steps like we might see in a manufacturing environment. Therefore, noting 112 pieces of inventory between steps 1 and 2 didn’t really make sense for him.

Once I understood this I asked if there was any “waiting” or “queuing” time in between process steps and Jeff quickly replied YES!

I then explained that an easy way to adjust your value stream maps for this type of situation is to replace the “I” inside the triangular icon with a “Q” which represents the time spent waiting in between processes.

The Light Goes On!

With this simple piece of advice I sensed a new found hope in Jeff’s voice.

It’s as if he finally realized that lean thinking is not an exact science and that it’s OK to bend the so-called rules and guidelines taught in workbooks and even lean training videos narrated by extremely handsome instuctors.

What do you think?

Do you agree that it’s OK, and even preferred, to bend the rules in order to make lean concepts apply to your work?  Or do you feel like it’s important to apply tools in the most traditional manner?

  1. Mark Welch

    April 22, 2011 - 6:33 am

    By all means, bend the rules. To me, lean at it’s core is achieving the best flow to provide maximum value to customers/patients in the least wasteful, safest way. The fundamentals and principles always remain, but with lean thinking we also need to lose the blinders, so to speak, to maximize value.

    • Ron Pereira

      April 22, 2011 - 7:18 am

      Thanks for the comment, Mark. I hope you and yours have a safe and Blessed Easter!

  2. Jeff Hajek

    April 22, 2011 - 11:06 am

    I tell my clients to always follow the rules, but if the rules don’t work, change them.
    Basically, I’m saying the same thing as you are. Follow the core principles (respect for people, frontline engagement, relentless waste reduction, etc.), but apply the tools in the way that works best for your organization.


    April 22, 2011 - 8:06 pm

    i am confused about concept of bending of rules.

    Following approach creates transparency on functionalities.
    Consider the approach of generic analytical method of
    Assigning cost values by
    asking analyzing and documenting each step of process [ end to end ]
    with identified requirements of Function, Forms, Fitness, Compliance,
    then assign resource cost values for each of them with
    materials cost, time value cost , age related cost [ if degradation takes place ],
    [ this is equally applicable in managing products or service delivery.]

    Having this completed above will provide opportunity to apply innovate solutions VE / VA or TRIZ ]approach that will help LEAN Optimization [ WIMPDOS ] with assumption
    that product / service performance as promised delivered.

    IF above methodology is used then rules apply transparently for
    the products or service that is aimed to be delivered with best value.

    Hence Question of bending does not arise.

    Mahendra Shah
    [email protected]

  4. Tim Swanson

    April 23, 2011 - 6:10 am

    Thanks for highlighting one of my biggest frustrations with Lean teachings – teaching the mechanics without teaching the theory behind the mechanics. When we help people understand why we do this and that, and the theory of Lean as well as the mechanics, then the student can apply the theory in any situation. Just like training employees on work tasks and quality requirements, unless why we explain why we need to do it this way, the chance of a standard output is minimal at best.

  5. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    April 28, 2011 - 1:51 am

    Hi Ron,
    It is certainly not bending the rules as all those triangle of inventory you discover when you map a value stream are just queues of stuff waiting for the next step in the process.
    Unfortunately, some rather dubious logic behind traditional accounting practice has seen them as an asset. I wonder what those same accountants would have thought if that WIP had had a voice like any frustrated person waiting in a queue?
    Keep up the good work!

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