Thursday, October 11, 2012

How a Commercial Photography Studio Successfully Applied Lean Principles to Tackle Waste: Part 1 of 2

Lean is a systematic and disciplined approach to identify and eliminate waste through continuous improvement in pursuit of total quality and perfection. It is a concept that has its roots in the Japanese automotive manufacturing industry, however its applications can be wide and useful in various industries. In this two part series I am setting the stage to discuss one such industry, a local commercial photography studio. Due to the constraint on length of the article, I will not go into great depth on all the lean principles. I will however introduce the basics to help my readers without a lean background understand the subject I am trying to convey.

Orignal Image Courtesy:FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Recently, I had an opportunity to interview a process owner from a leading retail commercial photo studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the first part of this series, I will share with you the basic principles of Lean, 3 major contributors to waste, and the 7 categories or types of waste. In the second part of the series, I will share how the process owner successfully identified the 3 contributors to waste and implemented a plan to tackle elimination of at least 5 types of waste. So, lets get started with the basics of Lean.


The word "Lean" was coined by Jim Womak & Dan Jones in 1990. The principles of lean are documented in their book "The Machine that Changed the World" after their trip to Japan, touring automotive manufacturing plants.

The five (5) basic principles of Lean are based on the following:

1) Specify the value from the customer point of view (Identify Value)

2) Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product family, eliminating whenever possible those steps that do not create value. (Eliminate Waste)

3)Make the product flow continuously in a sequence through the remaining value-added steps toward the customer. (Value Stream Mapping)

4)As the flow begins, encourage your customers to pull value from the next upstream activity. (Flow & Pull Systems)

5)As the value is identified, value streams mapped, waste eliminated, flow and pull introduced, manage toward perfection so that perfect value is created with no waste. (Continuous Improvement)

Once value has been identified from the customer point of view in the process, one can identify possible areas of waste reduction to eliminate non-value added steps. A key concept of the the Toyota Production System (TPS) is the identification of three (3) types of waste commonly found in organizations:

1) Muda (Waste): is a Japanese term for waste or futility, anything that does not add value. It is also any process or step that consumes valuable resources without creating any value to the process or the customer.

There are seven (7) categories of Muda namely:
  • i) Overproduction
  • ii) Conveyance
  • iii) Waiting
  • iv)Motion
  • v)Rework
  • vi)Over processing
  • vii)Inventory
2) Mura (Unevenness/Variation): is a Japanese term for unevenness or lack of uniformity/inequality.It is a type of waste and it refers to variation & unevenness in a process, work methods, or output capacity of a machine. Mura is often viewed as a key contributor to Muda.

3)Muri (Unreasonable/Irrational Overburden): is a Japanese term for irrationality or unreasonable demand. When load exceeds capability, people, personnel and equipment are overburdened as a result.

Most organizations tend to focus just on Muda and in the process tend to forget about Mura & Muri which are key contributors to Muda. To tackle Muda, an organization must look at the programme as a whole taking into account Mura and Muri and how they can be addressed as well.

This gives you a foundational understanding on the basic lean principles and in Part 2 of this post I will share with you a practical case study on the commercial photo studio that successfully identified Muda, Mura & Muri and how one process owner plans to tackle Muda.

If you have examples that you can share about how you applied Lean principles to improve a process or tackle Muda, Mura or Muri, please share your experience in the comments section below or email me.

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