I hope this wasn’t a "Lean" improvement


From a friend who is an engineer at a major company in an industry that should know a lot about lean by now:

Old way: Cleaning personnel, as they are cleaning offices, empty trash can from each desk daily.

New way: Take your own garbage to ‘central' trash container.

This was labeled as ‘significant cost savings' for [company].

They fired someone in our building, who is making $7.50 and hour to clean 200 or so offices.

OK so recap: Old way: Someone making $7.50/hour takes out garbage. New way: Someone averaging $40.00/hour takes out garbage. THERE ARE NO SAVINGS, THE GARBAGE STILL HAS TO BE REMOVED!!!!!

I'm just floored. Someone carry me to the central trash area. This falls along the lines of getting rid of material handlers as “non value added” and then the line shuts down because workers are chasing their own parts. It's crazy. It sounds like a horrible decision. And, it's certainly not what I would call “Lean.”

I'm sure the “savings” in this program didn't include the time, distance walked, and cost of taking out your own trash. One inexpensive cleaning person, following a defined standard route, doing nothing but emptying trash would be much more efficient and practical than everyone going their own.

Update 12/14/06 (the mice prediction was correct).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. My large company that should know better did the Six Sigma version of this. Our cleaning people come three times per week. The exterminator comes once a week to trap the mice that have moved in to feast on the leftovers that the cleaning people don’t remove on the days off.

  2. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

    This isn’t “Toyota Way Lean.” This is “Subway Lean.”

    Just like Jared, every day employees will enjoy a nice brisk walk (to the trash bin) and by the end of the year they’ll all be leaner. ;-)

    BTW, I just stumbled upon your blog. Good stuff.

  3. I do not bemoan this example, I cherish it–celebrate it, even. In fact, Mark, every time you post these kind of examples of dunderheaded leadership I feel eased and relaxed. Why? Because even though my leaders are constantly pointing out how good our “competitors” are, like Toyota, I know most of our competitors are just like this company.

    There is no such thing as the “lean community.” Nor should there be. We are all in business and most of us compete with each other, so one company’s stupidity is another’s opportunity.

  4. Joe-

    It’s not so convenient, because you have to return to your desk with the trash can. So, unless they want you to leave the can and pick up a new one in the morning on your way to your desk, I don’t see this as a “on your way out” activity.

  5. Wow, this sounds like an example I would see at some former employers like GE,Emerson & Delphi. Where some idiot finance person and Supply chain leader gets a big bonus on ‘how much money they saved’.

    Interesting how the word “Lean” is misinterpreted by so many companies. Maybe we should make a concerted effort to call it what it really is, “toyota production system or TPS for short”

  6. As if the office folks were really disrupting a continuous flow of productive work for this one task. You’re going to take a few leisurely strolls around to chat it up anyway, why not take a garbage can with you? Maybe you’d like someone to sharpen your pencils for you too.

  7. I don’t think it’s a disruptive task, but it’s unavoidable. I don’t see office folks consciously foregoing casual time to perform additional work whether it’s garbage, pencil sharpening or TPS reports. The point is it effectively reduces everyones effeciency by 1 minute a day. It’s very small amount but I would rather pay someone a lower rate to do the same job.

  8. Why not have engineers clean the restrooms themselves while they’re in there anyway? Think of the cost savings from firing another lowly janitor.

  9. When I was transferred to our office in Barcelona many years ago, the office manager (the office had about six consultants at the time) asked me how I liked my coffee.

    “Black,” I said, “but just show me the machine, I drink a lot of coffee.”

    “Oh no,” she replied, “I’ll get it for you.”

    “No no, that’s very kind of you,” I said, “but honestly, I drink a lot, I can get my own, and I kind of like the break anyway, thanks.”

    “Listen,” she said, “Your billing rate is e times mine. We’re all trying to make this business work. If you’re wasting your time taking breaks to get coffee, you’re hurting all of us. You sit, and work, and bill. I’ll get the coffee. Got it?”

    I got it. She got it. Your friend’s company sure didn’t.


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