How many of you have had the task of going into a site / company, done your presentation showing how they can improve their customer experience and find out that all they really want to do is spend less on direct labor? This has been my experience with some but not all of my continuous improvement roles. What no one seems to discuss or even talk about is doing less work instead of lowering the companies brain count.

I have worked on numerous projects to develop new tools, be it digital or physical, to make the job easier. The product / service is then pitched to the leadership. They usually love it or at least think it is a good first step. My next question then is, “What are you going to stop doing based on this tool?” The answer, “Nothing.” So why did the team put so much work into this if it didn’t replace anything? Good question. Up front in the initial stages of the discussion, everyone at the table stated this is the most logical step in the process and that having this tool would create redundancies that should be dealt with, but we just don’t feel comfortable removing this work from supervision, management, or insert whatever silo term you want to put in. I can see running things in parallel as an error finding exercise but when teams and individuals are told you need to do more because of this tool the team developed, who wants another team to “help” them? And who wants to be on the next team?

The issue comes down to stating that until the culture of the organization is standardizing work, developing and implementing continuous improvements on a daily and on a micro level, talking about work elimination is alien. I think part of it is that as far as the P&L, it is not focused on. Most companies don’t have a G/L account marked, overprocessing or redundant reporting, but they do have Cost per Unit and Direct and Indirect spend in dollars and hours.

I have had numerous discussions and received emails over the years that state that a Manager or Supervisor is in the plant or at the corporate headquarters by themselves on a Saturday / Sunday or Holiday. Were they developing a new process? Were they preparing for an event going on that week? Usually, I when I state usually I mean 99% of the time, they are cleaning up paperwork or loose ends from the previous week because they were “too busy” running the process. I realize that some paperwork and reporting is business non-value added and that there are multiple reasons why this information needs to be captured. But even in those cases, is it really the spirit of the report or work to do this at the end of the month or week or should it be captured real time as activities happen?

To that end, I now work first on work elimination and then focus on the improvements so that time and resources no longer have to be “carved out” of schedules but become open blocks of time in the calendar that can be used to get better. Less people means everyone’s plate needs to get bigger. At some point the plates will break and along with it, the individuals who had been carrying them. Wouldn’t it be better to have the same plate and put less on it?