During our fantastic kaizen event in sunny Chihuahua, Mexico last week, I was reminded of a common phenomenon still found in the workplace that people do not like to be seen idle so they will do anything to be seen as working. It’s like we follow this workplace mantra, repeating over and over again: we must stay busy…we must stay busy.
It never fails, when anyone is being observed they will do anything to stay or look busy. There seems to be this powerful unseen force in nature that tends to make us feel very uncomfortable to be idle when at work especially if someone is watching. The resulting action is for us to do something (anything) which is better than doing nothing. This pressure to “do” is magnified if the people around us are busy working or the higher up the ladder the person watching us is employed. It is worst if the person doing the observation is from the corporate office.
The problem with this stay busy work ethic is that we tend to fill our time with typically non-valued added tasks. Overproduction is one of the most common results. More importantly, it hides the problems of imbalance and work flow. Remember, motion does not equal value.
For example, we combined some operations to point of use on one of our main assembly lines in our Chihuahua kaizen event. In our old process, we had built up some work in process (WIP) inventory. Through our experimentation, we proved that the WIP inventory was no longer needed so we were trying to consume it.
I was standing next to the associate that worked in this cell and just by me observing him for an extended period of time, he felt compelled to follow the workplace mantra. He began building ahead just to stay busy. It took a surprising amount of effort and coaching to get him to understand and believe that it was ok to be idle. We also explained to him that by working ahead, he was also “working harder” and increasing his cycle time by taking extra steps and double handling. Finally, we were able to eliminate the WIP and get back in flow.
As a helpful hint, we suggested a list of more value added activities to could be done during this idle time rather than overproduction. This list included some equipment PM, workstation 5S or even thinking time to make improvements to their job. Yes, thinking!
So next time you are in gemba, look for signs of the workplace mantra in your operation. Use it as an opportunity to teach a better approach then joining in the crowd chanting…We must stay busy.