What is the purpose of waste elimination? And the natural law of gas

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 05-31-11

Waste elimination seems pretty straightforward, right? Of course waste elimination is good, so why do we need a purpose? Because when we free up waste, most organizations don’t know what to do with it.

To be clear about this, you first need to be clear about the strategic direction or vision for the organization. This will give you a good sense of how to invest your waste savings. One organization, which is product and brand focused, has a clear connection between waste elimination and investment in innovation. The more waste they eliminate waste, they more they can invest in innovation. This has brought them new products to keep their brand portfolio continually evolving.

Another organization is in a growing industry. Those that are able to keep up with the growth operationally will win in the long run. As they eliminate waste, they are investing that, both with dollars and resources, into expanding their capacity to grow into the market.

If you don’t have a purpose behind your waste elimination, then any room (physical, time, dollars…anything) you create will end up getting filled up with more waste. The follows the natural laws of gas. All other variables being the same, gas will expand to fill the void. Waste is the same way. If you don’t apply pressure, in the form of clear goals and strategies, then the waste will expand into the space provided.

The goal of lean is not to eliminate waste. The goal of lean is to help the business fulfill it’s potential. If you don’t have a clear strategy, then waste elimination can become the end, and eventually, because it does not deliver fully to the business, the end of lean.