This article was written by Catalyst Consulting Director John Morgan on 6 Oct 2015, shortly before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The article explores his concept of Errornomics and eliminating waste in processes.
Recently, I found myself on jury service. It was an interesting, but frustrating experience as I witnessed so much waste within the system and processes operating at the Crown Court. As a simple example, the first case I was on was adjourned because the prosecution had failed to organise copies of the witness statements for the jury – this lost almost half-a-day. It was a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time, especially as even if the Court didn’t have a working photocopier available, there was a copy shop just around the corner!
There were lots of other examples of waste and rework, but this post isn’t looking to solve the problems of the Courts, though I’d be happy to help. But serving on the jury served to highlight the terrible waste that goes on in organisations and businesses, throughout this country and beyond. Various estimates have been made about the extent of the cost to both Public and Private Sector Organisations, but for many it seems to be in the range of 25-40% of their annual budget.
At a time when so many organisations are being asked to do more with less, tackling this waste seems too good an opportunity to miss. Incidentally, how much waste and rework is going on in your organisation? And how much effort is being invested to reduce or eliminate the root causes of the underlying problems? Depending on your answers, you might feel the need for some errornomics.
Errornomics is a word I made up several years ago, though others appear to have used it, albeit in a slightly different way that seems more to do with ergonomics. A definition is needed. The word doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, at least at present, but if it did, I feel the entry would look like this:
Errornomics: a plural noun describing the science that deals with the identification, removal, and prevention of wasted time, effort, and money.
A lot of the waste sits in an organisation’s processes. Perhaps as little as 10-15% of the process steps add value. What’s more, whatever it is that’s going through the process spends only an incredibly short amount of time in those value-adding steps. Before you can identify what does and does not add value, you need a common language operational definition to test for Value-Add:
Testing for Value-Add (must pass all three tests):
The customer is interested and cares about this step.
The step must either physically change the output in some way, or be an essential prerequisite to doing so
The step must be actioned ‘right first time’
This first criterion can be difficult to assess, but consider whether the customer would be happy paying for this step to be carried out if they knew you were doing it – it’s a subjective view but it tends to get you thinking.
You have to address this waste, though do remember that some Non-Value-Added tasks will remain necessary for regulatory or safety, health, environmental or regulatory considerations. These are called ‘essential Non-Value-Added steps’. The key objective with these tasks is to ensure the process is designed to carry them out as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Waste comes in a variety of forms. I suspect the people reading this post will be fully familiar with Ohno’s ‘seven wastes’, and the Tim Wood mnemonic to help you remember them:
But if this isn’t the case, please let me know and I’ll run through them in a little detail.
It’s worth recognising, however, that there’s at least an eighth category of waste covering people and failing to use their skills, knowledge and potential. Some feel this breaks into two categories – misused and untapped. The untapped category is such a waste and one that can frustrate people to the point that they leave for more fulfilling work and challenges.
Looking at the misused aspect, there is a wide range of examples which fall into this category. Much of this will be around not properly structuring the way work is distributed and described. So, for example, how often do you see confusion in the alignment of both individual and Departmental goals with people working at cross purposes?
And how often do you either hear or say the words, ‘that’s not quite what I meant’?! Spending a little more time properly describing and agreeing the requirements of a task is time well spent, assuming the task is a Value-Added one!
One way or another there’s a lot of waste to address.
Errornomics pulls together a number of techniques, including, for example, Value-Add analysis, Error Proofing and Failure Modes Effect Analysis (FMEA), to help organisations address the waste and Non-Value-Add that’s impacting their margins and operating capability.