Performance Perspectives

Visualizing Waste

I received some good feedback via comment, twitter, and email on yesterday’s post regarding what I referred to as  “Metric Hoarding (KPI overload). Some of that feedback was from clients facing that very challenge today, identifying well with the issue of “KPI overload”. Many of you offered your own thoughts from your own experiences which is always helpful in refining and building upon my own ideas and solutions. I guess that’s the whole purpose of social and collaborative media. Pretty cool stuff.

But one reader/ twitter colleague (Redge – twitter @versalytics), and author of his own blog “Lean Execution” )used a pretty compelling analogy in his feedback to me. TIn amplifying my point about “KPI overload” and the need for some deliberate “pruning” of your metrics database, he used the analogy of “people who leave their windshield wipers running after the rain has stopped“. He used this metaphorically of course, to highlight a scenario where a process continued long after the result was accomplished.

And that was the main point I was making in yesterday’s post –That when we keep reporting on things long after the report or measure is unnecessary, we produce waste! And waste impacts everything from productivity to profitability. It destroys organizations and their cultures from within, and can propagate like a cancer if left unresolved.

I think that’s why analogies like this are so useful. They are so simple to understand, yet so powerful in getting leaders and managers to “look in the mirror”, do some deep reflection, and begin to see how their own processes may be  driving waste within their own companies.

As an aside …

If you’ve ever worked around a real Lean practitioner, you’ll quickly realize that are no shortages of these metaphors. So much so, that I’m sure there exists a reference book somewhere that has consolidated every lean metaphor that can be associated with waste into one single volume. In addition to all of the great value that the Lean discipline has delivered to industry in recent years through their tools, methods, analytic frameworks and facilitative culture of problem solving; the thing I’ve learned the most from them is their ability to simplify complex problems and increase the likelihood of a good solution.

In my view, visualizing the problem is critical in identifying, understanding, and ultimately solving it. Most often, we use visualization in a positive way (helping us see a bolder aspiration,  clearer pathways, and bigger success). Golfers, for example, always try and visualize their shot (shape, trajectory, landing spot etc.) during their pre-shot routine. And I can honestly say, that it does help- mostly because it clears negative thoughts and fear from the mind right before you have to execute. Using positive visual cues does work.

In much the same way as a positive metaphor helps us identify with success, “problem oriented” ones can work just as effectively; helping us see problems more clearly and begin to understand their drivers. We’ve all seen or heard these types of analogies from time to time:

  • The driver who keeps getting a flat in their front left tire, and over time has masters his “productivity” in “changing the tire” (faster and smarter at changing the tire)…all the while failing to ask why the tire was blowing out in the same spot every time.
  • The man who keeps falling an a hole on his way to work, and focuses his energy on how to climb out faster …rather than simply changing his route!
  • Why car washes have people towel drying your car long after after the mechanical dryer has been installed.

All of these analogies paint a clear picture of the problem, while also making the problem appear less daunting to solve. They “clear the fog” (so to speak…:) ) and help get us more quickly to designing and deploying a better solution.

So what are some other good visual cues that can help identify more sources of waste within our companies and our lives?


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at