Efficiency 101

Japanese inventions are pretty cool: Aikido, Nintendo (Zelda!), digital audio, chindōgu and crazy game shows. The Japanese are also known for developing excellent models of manufacturing and corporate efficiency, namely Lean and Six Sigma. I took a course in the latter this week, and it was quite interesting. I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to following procedures. There are few things more irritating than not having the tools to do a good job at work, or having colleagues who have the tools but for some reason don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

One of the concepts I learned in training is TAKT Time (takt means ‘rhythm’ in German). The idea is that you need to figure out how long it reasonably takes to produce a certain amount of work correctly; any deviation (working too slowly or too quickly) is a form of waste. If that does happen, then it’s assumed your calculation is wrong, OR your workers are dumb/lazy or superhuman/brown-nosers. It comes down to quantity versus quality. On the one hand, this is your excuse for not working too much or too quickly. On the other hand, it’s an excuse for your manager to tell you not only to get your quota done, but how and when.

It's not enough that you got the work done...

Another concept I found useful is an interrelationship diagram. By showing the causal links between factors, you can identify key issues in solving a problem. Normally, there are arrows showing causation but this is a simplified version. Suppose your employer is trying to figure out why there’s high turnover and absenteeism…

Why don’t people like working here?

Most companies at some point engage process consultants to figure out how they can do things better. But while improvements can be made, most of the time, even after the prescribed changes are implemented, the company still sucks. In other words, there’s a lot wrong with companies at a basic level that they’re just not willing to fix. Don’t think the higher-ups don’t know they have incompetent management, raw materials that could be of higher quality, or a miserable workforce. They just don’t care, because that’s how they make as much money as they do. The trick is to squeeze as much money as possible out of their suppliers, clients and employees without pissing them off enough that they go somewhere else. So it may be tempting to feel motivated and inspired by efficiency models, but remember: the Lean manufacturing process was designed after the Toyota Production System. Here are some companies that claim to have implemented Six Sigma:

What’s the point of cleaning house if your foundation is cracking?

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