When I have been asked to deliver waste walking workshops for my clients it has often been seen as a one off exercise, to give the business a one off jump in performance. Whilst these workshops do allow us to identify and plan improvements, waste walking is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to business improvement. At the heart of Lean (manufacturing) is the conflict between value adding activities and waste generation. The aim of Lean is to eliminate waste, ultimately allowing you to provide your customers with better products that are delivered in line with their demand whilst giving you a healthier profit margin. This method is a doorway to a larger world.
One of the main reasons why waste walking is such a good way to get into Lean is that this process is really easy to learn. Best of all, waste walking actually addresses the eighth waste, untapped human potential, as it gets the people who do the job involved with improving it. It is widely recognised that the people who do the work, day to day, understand the processes far more intimately than their managers do. Going for 'a walk' can marry the insight of the operator with the leadership and direction of the manager brilliantly.
Whilst it might be seen as a diversion from doing 'real work', the time spend identifying ways to improve the business can be invaluable. All you need to do is choose a route through your business and then work as a group to spot the commonly recognised wastes; defects, overproduction, transportation, waiting, inventory, motions, inappropriate processes and untapped human potential. It's a bit like a grown up version of 'eye spy'!
Like most Lean techniques, waste walking can be started small and built upon. Starting small takes away the fear people have about trying new things and can quickly be ramped up on the back of the successes. By starting small you will generate less improvement ideas, but you will also be in a better position to implement the ideas. Getting some early wins from your waste walking and then providing positive feedback to the group will encourage them to take part in the subsequent waste walks, and ultimately in Lean transformation projects as they develop.
So, use waste walking as an entry point to your Lean improvement activities. This approach can be fun, can reveal a whole raft of improvements that have gone unnoticed under your nose so far and can help improve with workforce engagement. Lean is still a great approach to improving a business, so use waste walking as your opportunity to embrace this set of tools, and take your team with you on the journey.
Giles Johnston is the author of many short guides on business improvement, his author page is http://amazon.com/author/gilesjohnston. A full waste workshop kit is also available to download here: http://www.systemsandprocesses.co.uk/waste_pack.php.
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