If you are a change leader -- C-suite executive or middle manager, embarking on a change program, getting the foundations right is critical. This will determine the success or failure of your transformation. Read Waste Management from our eBook, Change Readiness: Planting the Seeds for Change Success or download it in its entirety here.
Where does all the rubbish go?
You will be familiar with the word “landfill” but have you ever actually seen one? Where exactly are these places? They never appear in that “points of interest” list on a satnav and they are never signposted off the motorway. The reason for that, of course, is obvious. It is why the dumpsters are hidden around the back of your favourite restaurant. Nobody wants to think about them, let alone see them.
Waste offends us, especially in huge amounts. It destroys the pleasure of producing or consuming the value. We first need to learn to see what waste in our organisations really looks like, up close and personal. Then actually take the time to examine it and go out of our way to think about ways to prevent it being produced at all. When Sir David Attenborough revealed what our plastic habit was doing to the oceans – really, made us stare and absorb the full horror – we started taking it seriously. And taking things seriously is a vital catalyst for change.
Stare into the dumpster. It is worth it.
Waste in business is no different. No one wants to stare inside the company dumpster. It is horrifying. Nevertheless, it is absolutely the best trigger for business transformation. Open the dumpster and get offended. Then keep it open. There will be resistance of course. It is an open dumpster. Managers will feel like it is their fault. They will assume their managers will agree. But no matter how painful it may be, the rewards for doing so are worth the pain.
All business has cost, but waste is optional.
Let us define “waste” in the business sense. To do that, you need to define its opposite – value. When a company creates nothing but value waste is non-existent. But then so is that company, because no system is that efficient. There will always be a certain amount of waste that is uneconomical to remove from your business processes. But many studies prove that 50-70% of corporate waste removal provides a healthy return on investment (ROI) as well as contributing to competitiveness. That 50-70% permeates your business processes. Overlook its ugliness. Practice the art of forgiveness. The trick is not to concentrate on the waste that is already in there. That cannot be undone. Cleaning that up is just another waste of time and resources. Concentrate on the institutional practices and structures that created it in the first place. Identify and understand inappropriate corporate structures stifling cultural shifts. This will take courage but will guarantee your dumpster will be far less full in the future.
“That’s where the money is!”
Taking a long, hard look inside the dumpster may be difficult, but scrutinising wasted resources has extraordinary benefits. What is actually in the dumpster may not be salvageable, but what it symbolises certainly is. It represents the potential for how much can be saved from the same fate next time around. And potential is always exciting.
Ignore the eyesore and forgive but remember to learn.
When infamous American criminal Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, the simplicity of his answer revealed a focused wisdom – “Because that's where the money is!” Sutton may not have had the moral high ground, but you cannot fault his logic. There is money in expansion, diversification and scale of course, but there is also plenty in that dumpster round the back if you can bear to look. Waste is inevitable, so learning to process without waste is key. But the focus is usually on efficiency alone and that means delivering both the value AND the waste efficiently. This simply results in the production of cheaper, neater, faster, waste.
Seeing a significant reduction in the amount of waste in your dumpster will be the result of dealing with waste effectively rather than efficiently. But none of that can start without first opening it up and taking it all in.
Insight from Stephen Parry
Most organisations that drive efficiency alone are failing to realise they are also making waste more efficiently. It is as if they are standing on a mountain of diamonds digging for gold. The gold here is efficiency and the waste the diamonds. There are many forms of waste that you should pay attention to first. They do not see the value in diamonds as they are only fixated on gold, so they shovel the diamonds out of the way only to find there is little or no gold to be obtained.
What we have learned from Lean and Agile thinking is that work that should not be done, by which I mean much of the work people are doing is caused by things not working, but it is treated as normal. That is why having a clear understanding of what value means is important.
Purpose defines value and value defines meaningful work. Everything else is waste, but it is assumed that because work is coming in, in all its various forms, it all must be processed. Which is true, but you should be asking yourself 3 questions: (1)“Where is this coming from?” (2) “Why?” and (3) “And do we want it?”
“If we really understand waste, it can be reduced by at least 50%.”
Most organisations, especially in IT, treat failures as normal. They call them “incidents” where the focus is to get the IT systems up and running as quickly as possible. Then to keep the cost of processing incidents as low as possible, they move onto the next incident immediately without taking any time to collect any pertinent information that may be useful to determine and remove the root causes. Occasionally an incident can be catastrophic with long, disruptive downtimes. Later they will deep dive into the causes of the worst failures, and in obvious cases they may reduce 1 or 2 problems from happening again. However, the overall number of incidents is never reduced by more than 5% or 6%. The reason? The information required to remove the failure permanently was not captured in the mistaken drive to get onto the next incident – that is efficiency, not effectiveness. If we really understand waste, it can be reduced by at least 50% and in some cases 70% because all incidents are waste and need to be prevented at source.
Imagine what that does to free up overburdened resources that can then be released to go somewhere else, specifically into making systems run better. Customers are more productive. When customers’ systems are up and running, they are not spending their time talking to you about down time. They see much greater value being produced. Your entire organization becomes far more competitive, while becoming an attractive business partner for your customers.