Waste and why I rather talk about something else

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on May 10, 2015
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The other day I commented on a tweet from Paul Klipp. A man I highly respect around all things Lean and Agile. Here’s the tweet and my response:

All the elements to have an argument are in there: the word “waste” is used (see below) the tag #NoEstimates is mention (which in itself has caused a lot of anger) and finally the tweet is a bit provokative.

However, since I know that “waste” is a concept that many people have many different ideas about (I promise I will explain) I wrote the comment above.

After that I found myself in a discussion on twitter made up of some the names that I respect the most in the Lean / Agile world. And they seemed angry of each other.

I was not. And I think that the original comment by Paul was correct and enlightening. Let me explain my comment

The easiest way to explain it is to start in the end. Because Chris Matts wrote this and it stopped there:

R u suggestin risk management is waste for everyone other than RM consultant?

And the answer is “Yes, of course”. Just as stand up meetings, estimating, kanban boards, testing and documentation are waste. In the Lean sense…

Is that bad? Well wait a second and you’ll see. Is it interesting to talk about? I’ll end with that (scroll down to “Wake me up here”).

What is waste?

For a carpenter nailing two boards together the following is waste:

  • Pick up hammer
  • Raise hammer
  • Aim
  • Carefully make sure that thumb is not on nail
  • With power lower the hammer

And then BANG - hitting the nail. That is not waste. That is value.

There’s several types of waste but the basic premises is this: waste is the opposite of value, or the things that hinders value from being created. So; if it’s not value-adding it is waste.

Which is “GREAT” (notice the quotes) because that makes it easy to do a little test to see if something is waste or not: “Ok - you think that X is not waste? Let’s do more of it then. All the time for example”.

Awesome! Let’s try it out (and the next bullets are oozing irony):

  • stand-up meetings is waste. Do you want to do them all day long? Would our customers be more happy by that?
  • estimating - let’s only estimate! It’s not waste, so it’s value! Would we earn more money?
  • testing - testing is not waste. Stop coding - just do testing. It’s value.
  • kanban board management - let’s only create and move cards. Kanban boards are not waste so that means that we can do more of it and get more value
  • Risk management is not waste - lets only do that. All project long!
  • Risk management is not waste to RM consultants - let’s do more risk management. As much as possible.

Actually the last one is correct.

May I interest you in stopping at the reality station?

Defining waste like this is a bit too narrow and simplistic for my taste. I get a little bit nervous when I see on the Lean Wiki Page that the goal of Lean is to:

Lean manufacturing or lean production, often simply "lean", is a systematic method for the elimination of waste ("Muda") within a manufacturing process.

It’s too simple. And this has been captured greatly in a quote by Donald Reinertsen (that also was involved in the discussion… )

Value trumps flow, flow trumps waste reduction

Basically; if you can get flow (smooth adding of value) with some waste - go for it. Or if you can get value to your customers with an unsmooth flow, why not?

It very much comes down to how much of the process you are taking into consideration, as I wrote about before. No backlog might be great for your flow in your part of the process. But how is that affecting the total process? Maybe a little buffer, in the form of a backlog in front of your steps, would mitigate risk (as Dan wrote) or be needed to be able to keep up with the demand from you.

Much clearer expressed by Donald Reintersen himself, as response to my clumsy tweet-formulation and explanation above:

$100 of waste reduction, is worth more than $10 of flow improvement, or $1 of value improvement. IMO Trumping is dangerous nonquantitative way to conceptualize problem. It's question of tradeoffs

Wake me up here

I find waste not that interesting to talk about. On it’s own the tool is too blunt and makes us focus on just eliminate waste and not look into other factors that might affect our process.

Mindlessly go for what I started with “ALL WASTE MUST DIE” will not lead us to a good place. I think.

I’ll let Paul Klipp finish:

Maybe a little waste can be present and we can still be great. Or not? Real life is more complicated than to divide the world in good and bad.

All the people in the discussion; I have the highest respect for you all and if my comment made you upset I’m truly sorry. I just wanted to clarify a little.



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