Archive for February, 2010

Jason Gorman wrote an interesting article here about the definition of ‘waste’ and ‘flow’ which I thought was quite provocative. The idea that – as Jason says – if you eliminate waste you start generating ‘value’ does seem to me to be a rather simplified view of the world, especially when it comes to doing specialised work, of which software development is one example.

Human beings assess ‘value’ the way they assess everything else: Though the filtering lense of an individual world view. This means that, some things that actually are value work will be dismissed or interpreted wrongly whilst some things that are labelled as ‘waste’ actually aren’t what they seem (see a previous article I wrote on this here).  There is a sense that some people in the lean community view value as some kind of predicable outcome – like a form of chemistry.  I don’t accept this myself, and I think it is another example of the way the lean community are taking ideas and concepts which make perfect sense in another sector (typically manufacturing, and as Jason says – almost inevitably Asia and Toyota*)  and try to shoe-horn them into a totally different arena.  Well I worked in a couple of companies that had manufacturing operations, and I can tell you that some of things that went on you wouldn’t believe.  There was waste in the absolute true sense: warehouses of products and components that hadn’t shifted in years, and my particular favourite, a single motherboard that had not only been sent into stock and out again about 9 times, but had made the journey between shops up and down the country about 5 times before someone took pity on it and actually bought it.

Thats waste. But I’m not sure that what you encounter on a development project is quite the same thing. Waiting for the customer to come back to you with an answer to a question related to your software project, isn’t waste in the same sense. I guess we know what it means, but we need to be careful about how others (which might have more decision making capabilities than we do) interpret it. If you’re running a production line it’s all clear cut. I just don’t think it is in software development, and we must accept that situation.

* And even then, people are only looking at one specific part of Toyota.  I’d be interested in finding out about how other non-manufacturing parts of the company operate, but nobody seems interested.

…But then of course, I don’t drive.  Interesting that Toyota has recalled more vehicles than they manufactured last year.  Hardly the ‘Toyota Way’ is it.

I wonder what Mr Deming would have made of it all…