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Bruce Hamilton

Lean

Stuff

Being tidy does not mean being organized

Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 13:03

December was a busy month for everyone at GBMP. In addition to all of the usual activities to close out the year, we were packing to relocate from Newton, Massachusetts, to our new office in Boston. We were also tossing a whole lot of stuff, something we’d previously neglected to do.

As promoters of lean, it seems we were a bit remiss ourselves in practicing what we preached. Shigeo Shingo famously noted that “the worst waste is the waste we cannot see.” Fact is, if you have enough space and your piles are neat, it looks like you’re organized. While we were extolling the virtues of 5S to our clients, we were also getting our Ph.D. (pile it higher and deeper) in neatly arranging stagnant files, videos, fliers, posters, banners, displays, and unusable electronics. It’s amazing how much stuff can hide in plain sight under a cloak of invisibility. We were tidy, but not organized. Better that we’d have been sloppy about it because then we might have seen it.

A couple of weeks before our move, we contracted with 1-800-JUNK to leave a three-yard dumpster bag in the center of our office as a repository for the stuff we were sluffing off before moving. On day one we filled it, triggering a cycle of dump and regret. Employees (including me) began sifting for valuable stuff.

“Can’t we use these file folders?” I asked our office manager, Tracy.

“No! That’s a 10-year supply,” she fired back. “They’re not coming.”

Tracy tried fruitlessly to sell some stuff on Craigslist and finally was able to donate a couple of unneeded printers to charity. Lela donated whatever office supplies she could fit into the trunk of her car to her daughter’s underfunded afterschool program. (The program coordinator nearly cried at the sight of two pristine reams of 11 in. × 17 in. paper.)

Altogether we filled three dumpster bags with the remainder. The final dumpster load contained two cartons of one of my favorite DVD’s, Downsizing Lot Sizesa final irony in that this video warns about the many problems caused by overproduction (producing too much or producing before need). No doubt we had gotten a “sweet deal” at some point on the 200 copies of the DVD, but I had to admit that this might have become a lifetime supply. (Today we produce all of our videos, one-by-one, or offer them as streaming content.) I turned to Tracy as if to seek a reprieve for the trashed videos, but before I could ask, she just said, “Nope!”

By the time we had finished 5S-ing GBMP’s old office, we had probably discarded two-thirds of what might have continued to hide in our new home. The experience gives new meaning to “out with the old and in with the new.” In 2019 we’re starting afresh, leaner and wiser in our new home, sharing space and ideas with the Lean Enterprise Institute at Tower Point in Boston.

Is it time for you to take a second look at your stuff?

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About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.