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Six Sigma- Lean

Lean is fashionable, both in manufacturing and service enterprises, and so more and more organizations are focusing on their value chains, making sure every activity they perform contributes to the value their stakeholders derive from their produces or services. AQIP has long focused attention on both the design of key institutional processes and the measurement of their performance as ways of improving value. But, in light of all this emphasis on cutting fat to get to the lean, it may be worthwhile to identify common ways to spot worthless work ó work that adds no value to the services we produce. Here’s a beginning: ten signs that the work you’re doing is without value. If more than two of these describe a particular task or activity in your organization, you ought to consider seriously the possibility that these efforts would be better invested in doing something else.

  1. No one appreciates the work being done ñ no one says “thanks for doing this,” no one gets anxious when the activity is overdue, or no one cares if the report comes late. If you forget to do it for a while, no one cares.
  2. The work produces no variance. Inspections that approve all items inspected are worthless, as are acts of grading where every student “earns” an A. Work like this falls under the “rubber stamp” syndrome ó it requires no skill, and adds no value.
  3. When asked what the purpose or goal of the work is, different people have radically differing opinions. No one can articulate the work’s purpose (“we do this because…” or “we do this in order to…”) because, in reality, the work has no clear purpose or goal.
  4. No one remembers when the organization began doing this task, or who started doing it ñ its origins are shrouded in mist. This describes activities that have been going on so long, and become so routine, that a mythology has developed to explain them ñ “it can’t be done any other way,” ìit’s natural to follow this routine,” “it must be required by law or regulation,” “how else could it be done?”, etc.
  5. The “value chain” that leads ultimately to the external stakeholders supposedly served by the activity is so long and tortured that any listener’s attention drifts off as you explain the “ifÖthen” chain of supposed connections.
  6. While they’re doing it, the person engaged in the task forgets what he or she was doing. The worker asks “Now where was I? I forgot what I was doing when you interrupted me.”
  7. People working on the task are frequently asked to do something else “more important” first.
  8. The job is done wrong and no one complains. Or even notices.
  9. There is no “bottom line”: no one has ever calculated the costs and or tried to evaluate the benefits of the activity. Organizations measure the things that matter to them; they often neglect to measure the things that don’t really matter.
  10. There is no pressure to improve the activity ñ to make it more efficient, more productive, faster, less costly. The work’s current cost, efficiency, and productivity are all taken as unalterable. The fact that people never ask “how else could we do this?” often signals that an activity or task is a atavistic survival, perhaps of something that once did add value and have a practical purpose. The organization now continues to do it merely because of tradition or force of habit.

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