Thinking back to last year’s 2010 Northeast Shingo Prize conference, the theme of that year’s event was “Easier, better, Faster, Cheaper.” The theme was taken from the Shingo model’s plans for improvement – which emphasize that improvement should only take place in that very specific order.
When I first heard it, I thought that progression made a lot of sense: Take any work – if it is assembling, accounting, programming, welding – anything. If the work is uncomplicated and understandable, if it is constructed so as to be simple to perform, it is likely to be open to simple mistakes and, therefore, quality improves – which means easier leads to better. If the quality improves, then there’s less re-work, less “going slow to make sure you get it right” and the like, so the speed at which the work can be accomplished is increased – hence, faster. If we are doing things without burning people out, without rework and scrap, and take less time to do it - costs (especially per unit) are also….cheaper!
Ahhh…makes sense, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, the focus of improvement, and not just in Lean, is in cost reduction and increased cycle time. That focus misses the point entirely, and remains unaware of just how brilliant the Easier, Better, Faster Cheaper methodology – when pursued in that order and that order only, truly is.
Simple cost reduction focuses on the short-term. Focusing on the Easier, however, focuses on eliminating unecessary burden from both man and machine (yes, it’s that “Muri” concept coming up again, isn’t it?). It also makes applying the tools of project management and Lean and Operational Excellence models easier to conceive of in non-manufacturing floor environments. The purpose of the tools such as Kanban or 5S, or project plans, or KPI’s, etc. become more obvious, in my opinion, when their goal is not reduced time or lowered costs, but easier work processes.
“Easier” has to be linked to the “Cheaper” part of improvement, however. Otherwise, it people start thinking that the reduced effort will lead to others believing they are simply loafing. Like it or not, people pride themselves on working hard – even if they don’t have to. In fact, many will take pride in working hard WHEN they don’t have to – it’s a sign of a great work ethic, right?
Unfortunately, we are all aware that there is no waste so great as working hard at that which should not be done at all. Think of all that could be accomplished – professionally and personally – if we had less time spent doing things just for the appearance of working hard, and more time actually accomplishing that which we personally enjoy.
More thoughts on that in an upcoming post.