NoBatchingIf you are a lean practitioner, there are certain words that you just don’t say… and when you hear other people say them, you cringe and take offense.

For me, number one on that list is “batch”.  “Batching”, “batches” or any variants of that word is just a prelude of bad news.  Batching is the enemy of flow.  Batching is a sign of inefficiencies in the system.  Batching is covering up issues in the processes.  Maybe it is masking a transport waste, or perhaps an over-processing waste, or excessive motion waste.  Whatever it is, it’s not good!

Any time you hear someone talking about or any time you observe batching, it is incumbent upon you to find out the reasons behind it.  You may want to start asking “Why?” as many times as needed (remember your “5 Why’s”) until you uncover the reason why batching is taking place.

Batching, you see, is a symptom of something more sinister lying below the surface and it is up to us, Lean practitioners, to properly diagnose and treat the waste that is manifesting as batching.

Let me give you more reasons to question batching.  If you do not have a defect-free process and you process just one product at a time, you should be able to catch that defective product, realize that a defect has been made and hopefully correct it.  If you batch and you make a defect, you will have produced many defective products that are now either completely lost or will take a lot of effort and resources (time and money) to rework.

Can you always eliminate batching?  Maybe not.  Maybe you find out that the reason they are batching is because the printer is on the fourth floor and they can’t be going up and down for every single form every 2 minutes.  Imagine all the time they would waste!  I agree a 100%, but if that was the case, please, observe that by questioning the batching, you have uncovered THE REAL WASTE!  This is the real disease here.  The fact that the printer is far away and there is a big waste of transport in the process is the real reason and the waste you now could try to eliminate.  Can the printer be brought closer?  Is there capital to acquire another printer and place it closer to the point of use?  Now that you have uncovered the waste, you can treat it in a number of different ways.  You may decide there is nothing you can do about it.  The case of the printer is a simplistic one, used to illustrate a point.  It could be a real “monument” (that’s Lean talk for “objects that cannot be moved”), such as a lab, radiology equipment, an inspection station, or something else.  The thing I would like you all to appreciate is that batching is a waste mask and we should always question it!

A close second on my list of bad words is “workaround”.  A few days ago, we were facilitating a value stream exercise for an ophthalmology practice and in one of the side conversations that were occurring in the room, my ear picked up that someone said “workaround”.  I really cringed and started listening more intently to that conversation and made my way over to those individuals.  I let them continue the conversation but I was right there so they instinctively brought me into the conversation.  After a few minutes, I asked “so, do you see why that might be a problem?”  They looked at me as if to ask “What the heck are you talking about?  We didn’t say anything about a problem!”  And, to be fair, in their minds, there was no problem!  Then, they said, “Oh, it’s no problem.  It only takes 30 seconds!”  That is the classic response for a close workaround encounter of the third kind.

Workarounds, just like batching, are symptoms of really bad problems.  In this case, I am talking quality problems: defects.  This goes against every fiber of what I believe in and what I teach about built-in quality.  I have mentioned elsewhere the three Don’ts of Built-in Quality.  And this clearly violates the second one: DON’T ACCEPT A DEFECT!

If batching is the enemy of flow, workarounds are the enemy of built-in quality.

When somebody receives a bad product and just fixes it without alerting the upstream operation about it, that person does not understand built-in quality and it is up to us to help them grasp this essential concept.   That “bad product” could be anything.  In the case of the VSM exercise I mentioned above, it was a form that was filled out incorrectly a large percentage of the time.  It could be a form, it could be a widget, or it could be THE WRONG ORDER, THE WRONG PROCEDURE!  The important thing here is that, when a bad product is received, that operation MUST REJECT that product and inform the upstream operation about the defect and, if known, how to correct it so it does not happen again.  That, my good fellows, is built-in quality.

In the case of the VSM exercise, I proceeded to explain how that workaround is creating more waste in the process since it is allowing a defect to continue to occur.  I told them that, even though it wasn’t a problem for them to fix it, wouldn’t it be better if the form was filled out correctly every time?  I told them about my three Don’ts and their importance to maintain a defect-free process.  They seemed to grasp the concept a little better, although, as we know “old habits die hard”.  Since then, I heard someone said, “If I asked you to jump over an obstacle every morning to put on your shoes, would you continue to do that day in and day out, or would you remove the obstacle so you can get to your shoes faster and more safely?”  I am going to use that on my next class!

What are some other words that, from a Lean perspective, make you cringe when you hear them?

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