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Viewpoint: More value, less waste

Bourton Group’s Stuart Smith on the painstaking process of eliminating waste

Eliminating waste without impacting on performance is easier said than done. Waste comes in many forms otherwise known affectionately as Tim Woods, an acronym which stands for:

■ Transportation − moving materials and equipment around more than needed, double handling

■ Inventory − resources and cash tied up storing material and equipment in advance of need or as a fix for poor flow

■ Motion − people movement that does not add value eg walking long distances between work

■ Waiting − for work, information, materials, sign-off

■ Over Production − producing more than is necessary to fulfil the customer requirement

■ Over Processing − continuing to “polish” beyond what the customer really values

■ Defects − resources wasted in finding and putting right errors and defects in the product or service delivered

■ Skills Misuse − people working on tasks below or beyond their true competence

Tim Woods helps people “see” waste that otherwise is accepted as “the way we do things around here”.

All Lean Sigma projects will address waste at some stage, typically when the “as is” or “current state” process is being mapped. This is when waste becomes visible and is able to be challenged.

It is rare to find a process that is specifically designed for purpose. Most processes have evolved in an additive way where steps have been added over time to allow for changes in need or to compensate for potential areas of failure in the process.

Mapping the “as is” process enables you to break the process down into individual steps and examine it. The challenge then is to assess each step to determine whether it is adding value or not.

A good way to establish whether something is “value adding” is to ask: “if the customer knew we were doing this would they be willing to pay for it?”

“Be careful about process butchery. If you suddenly chop out steps in the process you can create unintended consequence.”

Non-value added activity is defined as that which is of no benefit in the eyes of the customer. Sometimes “nonvalue added” activity is necessary for safety or regulatory reasons but how it is carried out should be vigorously challenged.

The task is to remove all pure non-value add activity whilst all activity that is deemed to value add or is necessary for safety and regulatory reasons should be examined to see whether it can be undertaken at lower cost (eg simplified or automated) and with less opportunity for failure (eg less complexity or variation).

Evidence shows that waste accounts for up to 90% of time or activity in a process so there is lots to go for!

Be careful about process butchery, though! If you suddenly chop out steps in the process without redesigning the overall flow you can create unintended consequences.

Taking a structured, methodical and data informed approach to eliminating waste will ensure that performance is improved at lower cost, a better alternative to making cuts which are more indiscriminate in their impact and unpredictable in their benefit.

● Stuart Smith is managing director of Bourton Group and its subsidiary company The Six Sigma Group

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