Defragmentation, Lean Systems and Putting Back Things Where They Belong

Posted on 10 Oct 2008 by The Manufacturer

Defragmentation: correcting existing fragmentation by reorganizing files and free space back into contiguous areas... Jon Miller takes inspiration from computer housekeeping to tell firms why they must apply lean

Most of us have run the defragmentation tool on our computer hard drives. If you never have, you may want to do it now. Many businesses have never run the defragmentation tool on the end-to-end processes. Organizations that have recognized the inefficiencies and quality losses resulting from poorly planned and executed processes are exploring a method called lean to address these problems. If you haven’t looked seriously at lean, you may want to do that now.

Lean systems: systems which support the continuous adding of value by keeping waste out, visually alerting people when waste is creeping in, and enabling people to solve problems.

One of the functions of lean systems is to put things back where they belong. Synchronizing supply with demand results in many efficiencies across the supply chain and the micro and macro level. Logistics is essentially about having the right things at the right place at the right time. Of the three factors of location, timing and quantity the only one we can control is quantity, so we overproduce or sub-optimize. We experience time in a liner fashion and for all practical purposes cannot slow it down or speed it up. The location of the items or services we wish to deliver for our customers is determined by our customers. So all we can do is to put things in the right place and be ready.

What does it mean to put things back where they belong, in the lean world? How do we define “where they belong?” The exact “where” will differ by type of business and type of process, but in general, these things are true:

In the case or processes, this is immediately contiguous to one another. This is just in time.

In the case of things, this is right where you use them. This is standardization and 5S.

In the case of information, it is where people will see it. This is visual management.

In the case of people, it is right in the center of attention. This is the notion of respect for people.

In the case of problems, it is in a highly visible place. This is the beginning of kaizen.

In the case of profits, it is within a long-term perspective. This is the discipline we lack in today’s financial markets.

Fragmentation occurs when an operating system will not or cannot make space to put things where they belong: contiguous to their customer. When we lack space, we put it in another place rather than insist on putting things back where they belong and asking why the space is unavailable. Computer hard drives never ask this, they just put things where they are able, and not where they are unable. Thank goodness for the defragmentation tool.

We need both the skill and the will to put things back where they belong. This is why 5S (an neat, well-organized and clean workplace) is important, but more so the foundation of trust that everyone on the team will act in the best interest of the team in putting things (both material things and in terms or priorities) where they belong. We will pay now to put things back in their right place, or we will pay later when we spend extra effort to find them or fail to do so. The skill is easy to learn; do we have the will?

By Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei blog.

Good advice? Anything to add? Leave a comment below or email [email protected]