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Open Spaces and Planning for Tomorrow

headshot-rich wolinBy: Richard Wolin, Director, Training Services

Year-end and the beginning of a new year is often a time to reflect, repair, redirect, refresh, renew, and regenerate. For many organizations, this is the time for strategic planning, taking time to reflect on what has worked well and what hasn’t -- leading to what lessons have been learned. It’s a time to fix what’s not working and adjust our trajectory with the optimism of more opportunities than we have time. In today’s challenging workforce environment, we often hear clichés such as: do more with less, work harder, give 110 percent, and so on only to find we can’t change the number of hours in the day nor can we operate people or equipment for sustained periods at 100 percent capacity, let alone the proverbial 110 percent. There must be open space.

Side story: Early in my career, I was an inventory manager at a large bottling facility. When I arrived at this role, they were busting at the seams and had product stored everywhere in the name of “hitting the production numbers.” The company rented offsite warehouses to store product that was slow moving or out-of-date and wouldn’t fit in our production warehouse. Every year at inventory time, they wrote off whatever expired product that accounting would allow given much of it was still considered an “asset.” The corporate solution, following the typical approach to solving a chronic problem with technology, was to purchase a computerized inventory management system that would eliminate losing semi-trailer loads of product. There was no lean thinking back in those days, but the biggest lesson I took away from that failed experience was, as the experts had suggested, you have to have open space or it won’t work. In other words, you can’t just keep adding to the pile.

Open space is critical whether you are referring to inventory, equipment capacity, or the time and energy of people. Many lean thinkers are familiar with the eight wastes of inefficiency known collectively as Muda. The two lesser known — Mura (unevenness) and Muri (overburdening) — are equally important. Muri is the waste that identifies overstressing a system, process or person either by running at 110 percent or at 100 percent for extended periods. It is one of the core principles behind things such as planned downtime and preventive maintenance, which are as true for people and their thinking as it is for equipment.

Having facilitated dozens of strategic planning sessions for a variety of organizations, I can say one of the most difficult challenges is finding that open space. Give an organization a target of three to four key goals and they will argue for six to eight. Identify eight people who need to be part of it, and they will give you four. Twice the work, half the resources. We all try it. So take some time this year-end to reflect on creating space. Take time with your family and take time with the family in your organization. In both, you can use the proven tools of Lean and Hoshin Planning and Deployment to create space in your day, not by working harder but by working less. Less waste, less clutter, less chaos.

May you find peace in your open space … happy holidays.

Richard Wolin, Director of Training Services
MMTC-North Region at Northwestern Michigan College
1701 East Front Street; Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 995-2003

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