Forget “Efficiency”! Think “Density of Value Transfer”!

I don’t read many books on lean.  Most of them are pretty boring, truth be told.

That said, I’ve had one on my “To Read” pile that was recommended by a client.  It’s been there for several months, so I decided to take a look…mostly just to get it off the pile.

As it turns out, the book (This Is Lean; Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom, 2018) has turned out to be  interesting.  The fact that it quickly tells readers to forget about efficiency and to focus on flow caught my attention.  I’ve been preaching this same message for years.

A new idea (new to me, at any rate) that really piqued my interest was the concept of “density of value transfer”.   The density of value transfer gets at the value added time in a process compared to the overall process time.  If I call for a doctor appointment, have to wait for a call back to nail a day and time down, then wait for an hour before the doctor sees me, the density of value transfer is low.  If, on the other hand, I’m able to make the appointment during my first call, then wait just fifteen minutes to see the doctor, the density of value transfer is higher.

My example gets at what I like about the concept…it’s easy to talk about in contexts other than manufacturing.  It gets easier to describe how lean thinking applies to services in general.  We can talk about the value transfer density in just about any non-manufacturing process and it makes sense, from catching a plane, to getting one’s car prepared, to responding to a request for a proposal.

The authors get into another aspect that I like about the idea…it replaces a focus on “efficiency”.  If the doctor is “efficient” once she sees me, that doesn’t necessarily do much for value transfer density.  (In this example, it might even hinder it if I feel the doc is placing more emphasis on “efficiency” than she is on treating me respectfully.)

It also decreases attention to “speed” as a euphemism for “efficiency”…the doctor above can shorten my visit (make it faster) but that doesn’t improve value transfer density.

I also like that it removes the word “waste” from the discussion.  Rather than asking, “Is this time being wasted?”  (No one likes to admit to waste.), we’re asking, “Is this time spent on transferring value or not?”

There were a couple of other things I liked about the book, which I’ll get into in future posts.  So, stay tuned!

Book Review: The Work of Management

I just got through reading a newly published book, The Work of Management.  It’s written by Jim Lancaster, the owner and CEO of Lantech, a maker  of packaging and material handling machinery, including stretch wrappers, conveyors, and case-forming equipment headquartered in Louisville, KY.

It reads like one of those “lean novels” (An unfortunate trend started by The Goal…I don’t mind the idea of “lean novels” and they have their place, I suppose, but it’s clear that most folks who know about lean can’t write fiction worth a damn.  I read one that actually included a sub-plot about the protagonist’s affair with a co-worker.) but it’s far more interesting given that it’s Lancaster’s story rather than an attempt to wrap a bunch of lean methods up in a fictional account.  As such, the information and messages carry more weight, in my view.

One shouldn’t expect a “how to” treatise; rather, the book represents an engaging memoir of one manager’s efforts to change his company’s culture through the deployment of visual factory and standard work.    That said, the book does a decent job of providing some detail as to what Lancaster did and how he and his team went about it.  As such, it’s a good companion read to Daniel Mann’s Creating A Lean Culture.



The Lean Farm Follow-Up

A few posts ago, I mentioned I was reading (or was about to read) a book I’d come across, The Lean Farm, authored by Ben Hartman.  Well, I’m about two-thirds the way through and I’d recommend it even for (maybe, especially for) folks who are applying lean concepts and methods in other industries.  (Sometimes, examples and illustrations hit home better when they are just a bit outside our intellectual comfort range.)

The book is very nicely organized.  The author does a good job of breaking lean down into its most important elements.  Further, Hartman provides lots of illustrations and examples of his own application of lean tools and methods on his small farm.  Readers familiar with lean won’t learn much that’s new but will be interested in how an astute practitioner has been able to apply lean tools in an agricultural setting.  “Newbies” will get as good an introduction to lean ideas and methods as there is.

Continue reading “The Lean Farm Follow-Up”

Book Review: Blackett’s War

Maybe some of you have seen the recent movie The Imitation Game.  The movie focuses primarily on the life of Alan Turing during and after his and his colleagues efforts to break the German Ultra code.

Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare focuses on the same efforts without devoting as much attention to Turing.

So, why am I reviewing a book about WWII here in my blog on lean concepts and methods?  Well, the book’s title probably gives you a clue but here’s an anecdote from the book:  one of the team members was out in the field with the troops.  He noticed the soldiers lined up to wash their eating utensils.  They were queued in two lines; at the head of each line was one wash bin and one rinse bin.  He further noticed that the soldiers spent much more time at the wash bins than at the rinse bins.  He went over to the operation, turned one of the rinse bins into a third wash bin and formed the soldiers into a single line, so that, when a wash bin became available, the next soldier went to it.  Soon, there was no queue.  The soldiers weren’t waiting at all.  You see the connection with lean thinking, I’m sure.

Continue reading “Book Review: Blackett’s War”