According to Wikipedia, Lean Manufacturing, sometimes referred to simply as Lean, “is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.”
But the drive for efficiency — or the targeting of what looks like excess resources or expenditures for elimination — when taken too far, can create new kinds of waste in the system.
For example, I’m an end user of the restroom on my floor. The recent renovation was planned, not just to perk up what was old, dingy, and stained, but also to ensure that users waste less — less water, less soap, less paper towels.
After a while, you get over being startled by the toilet that flushes once before you use it and three more times before you manage to get out of the stall. And it stops being a big deal if the soap dispenser jets out a couple of extra squirts when your wrist happens to pass by its electric eye while you’re rinsing out your coffee mug.
But, oh, the paper towels!
Waste? Not. Want!
I’m grateful that we do, in fact, still have paper towels instead of those drying machines that are too weak to dry, or the ones that blast the air so hard you can see your skin rippling. Nonetheless…
The new dispenser is supposed to cut notched lengths of towel off a roll so you only get one at a time. It’s clearly more efficient than the dispensers that rely on interfolded towels, which can be packed too tightly at the beginning, so people pull out wads and chunks of towels and leave them on the sinks to get wet or just throw them directly into the garbage.
True, the cutting process relies on the right amount and angle of pull, and about 10% of the time, the next piece doesn’t protrude far enough to grasp and you have to turn the wheel on the side of the dispenser, which negates the sanitary value of not touching anything after you’ve washed except your own personal piece of paper towel.
But the thing that really gets on my nerves is how thin (“lean”?!?) the paper is. If your hands are actually wet, then you pull off bits of the towel sheet when you yank down. You have to get rid of the waterlogged bits that stick to your fingers and still have to take another towel (see photos). Not to mention that you really need at least two towels to dry off completely.
Cost of Savings
Now I’m confronted multiple times a day with the feeling that the system doesn’t work and my time is being wasted. Worse, the restroom is back to being dingy and dirty because some of the other end users leave the torn-off bits of paper towel on the floor.
If you’re trying to reduce waste in your organization, please prototype, pilot, or otherwise test your plans with your end users to ensure that you’re creating — not destroying — value for them.
Onward and upward,