Reality Check: Lean for Life

You may choose to be pleasantly surprised when you see that the “lean” in this column has nothing to do with dieting!

Rather, this “lean” refers to lean manufacturing, and it’s been around for decades. The goal is to reduce waste of all kinds. This is so important to industry, because when a company produces a defective product, there’s wasted materials, labour, packaging, and shipping, not to mention the waste of customer goodwill!

Waste reduction gets plenty of attention in our lives too, where it’s usually focused on reducing the amount of stuff that ends up in landfills. However, reducing waste from a lean perspective is a lot broader than just reducing the number of garbage bags at the curb.

Some types of waste are easily visible. For example, when you buy something that you don’t need or never use and then throw it out, there’s visible waste.

But, there’s even more waste than that! There’s the wasted time you spent shopping for the product, the wasted money you spent on it, and the waste of storage space that it occupied till you got around to getting rid of it.

Those are just a few examples of not-so-visible wastes. They aren’t wastes of materials, but they are wastes, nevertheless. What are some others?

Unnecessary transportation is a waste of time and gas. Combining your errands can limit that waste.

Unnecessary motion is another waste. When you store items close to where you use them, then you don’t waste time and energy fetching and returning. If we could keep everything right where we need it, how efficient we would be! But I suppose that storing the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the floor is not the answer…

Waiting is another waste. We’ve all spent time waiting, and there may seem to be little we can do to prevent it. Ask, “Is there anything I can control?” If the doctor always runs late in the afternoon, try making early morning appointments. You can also prepare; bring something so you make use of the delay. Or choose to look at the wait as an opportunity to relax; a change of mindset alone could transform waiting from waste to value.

Overproduction (making more than you can use) is a waste. If you don’t like leftovers, then cooking a turkey for a few people results in waste. If, on the other hand, you transform leftovers into soups and sandwiches, then that’s not waste; that’s efficiency!

This is only a partial list of the wastes that lean manufacturing focuses on reducing. And while wastes of materials, motion, and time are all important, there is one more category of waste that is possibly the most important of all. It is…the waste of human potential.

When people are not working or living up to their potential, that’s a waste—for them and for society. What can you do? Encourage. Support. Set an example. Take up a challenge instead of sticking to the easiest path.

Are you living and working to your potential? If so, how do you know? If not, what might you do to move closer to your potential?

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