No Wiggle Room

I visited a company (actually this could be many companies) recently and noticed “7  Wastes” posters displayed prominently in every department.  Pointing to the waste described as “Inventory’ — excess”, I asked my host, “How would you define excess in this case?”

She thought for a moment and then replied, “About one  month’s worth of inventory is good.  Any more than that is a problem.”

Pointing to stacks of material that lined the shop floor,  I asked, “So that inventory is good?”  “Yes,” she replied, “That’s all good – it’s sold.”

“So you’ve already received cash for it?” I asked.  “No,” she replied impatiently, “but we will soon.”

I decided not to push the concept at that moment, but reflected on how much wiggle room is built into the word “excess.”    I see the word used frequently to describe several of the seven wastes.  “Excess” is used to modify the waste of Motion also.  I wonder why.  I’ve not yet seen a poster that allows for  “excess defects”, although we might as well use that phrase too since most acceptable quality levels (AQL) are well above zero.  Even six sigma provides a little wiggle room for defects.

The problem with the wiggle room is that it modifies an ideal condition to become an “acceptable” one.  In the case of the company above, batches of inventory totaling one month were considered good.  More or less than that amount is not especially important.   What’s important is that the concept of an ideal condition has been lost.

How remarkably different the situation is in organizations that maintain the ideal:  Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting with Dr. Sami Bahri at his dental clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.   Dr. Bahri , who has been called the world’s “First Lean Dentist,” explained to me how he and his staff pursue the goal of “single patient flow.”

“We began with the simple procedures, like imaging and cleaning, with the goal of completing the patient’s complete procedure in a single visit.  Next we added simple dental procedures, and then crowns.  We’ve adopted quick changeover, pull systems and other lean methods to approach the ideal of one by one patient flow for every procedure.  We’re not there yet, but we work towards the ideal every day.”

The vision of one patient flow is pervasive and persistent at the *Bahri Dental Practice* giving rise to minute-by-minute problem solving and improvement.  This remarkable clinic has no place for wiggle room.

How much wiggle room do you allow in your organization?   Let me hear from you.


BTW.  Dr. Sami Bahri will be presenting at our  NE Shingo Conference, October 5-6, Springfield MA.

2 thoughts on “No Wiggle Room

  1. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    The definition of waste we use is anything beyond the absolute minimum amount of resources required to add value to a product or service. Of course, to your point, agreeing on what the minimum is can be the challenge. I was working with an organization that had made tremendous progress in reducing lead time, along with the corresponding inventory reduction. They starting getting close to their factory physics math theoretical limit of 3:1 lead time : processing time. They were wondering how much further they could go until I pointed out that their lots were still 25 units. So their real math was 75:1. If would take major capital and technology advances to go after that remainder, but the point is that they couldn’t even see the potential. The worst kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. Christian Paulsen

    We like the Zero Loss concept. You know that realistically we won’t completely eliminate all losses today or tomorrow but no loss is acceptable. One of my clients has over 10 injuries so far this year. Let’s say they make a goal to cut that by 50% next year – sounds good. Who wants to be one of the 5 injuries next year?

    All defects are waste and an opportunity for improvement. Any over-production, over-processing, and any inventory is waste….Recognize it for what it is and prioritize which golden opportunity you will pursue next.

    Chris Paulsen


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