What's the Point of Standard if it's Not Followed?


I am at the Ontario Hospital Association ‘HealthAchieve' meeting (giving a talk on Lean Healthcare later on). I saw Dr. Sanjay Gupta present this morning and will post a few notes about his talk – not about “Lean” but there were some “Like Lean” thoughts in his stories.

Speaking of standardized work not being followed (one of the challenges I touch on in my talk), the “Zero Waste” event has these sets of three rubbish bins everywhere. They are labeled “Organics only,” “Plastic/Glass/Metal,” and “Paper only.”

It seems well intended, but the standardized work compliance is very bad. Paper thrown into the organics section, food thrown into the plastics bin. Even a convention center staff member took my plastic bottle and threw it in the wrong bin. I'm not sure what that weird top on the Paper container is supposed to be error proofing against.

Is “Zero Waste” just an empty slogan that sounds nice? I guess the wasted motion of sorting out trash and recyclables isn't eliminated or prevented.

Putting your “lean cap” on, how would you try to solve this dilemma?

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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. With a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the setting, I do think that zero waste will be very difficult. One thing that might help (I emphasize "help" – not cure) would be to have the "Organics Only" and the "Paper Only" in different colored bins. Too easy to just glance at it and mistake one for the other.Other ideas out there?

  2. I can't figure out what they are trying to do with the three styles of tops to the bins (form doesn't seem to fit any particular function). A better way to differentiate, as Mark Welch suggested above, would be to have three different colors. Also, maybe more visual, less text-based labels (a cartoon depiction of the types of waste perhaps?) would be more effective, if only slightly. Unfortunately, these are rather weak forms of visual control, akin to hanging a warning sign in a dangerous area of a factory. A better approach would be to design receptacles with mistake-proofing features, although I'm not sure how feasible that is. Also, just like out on the shopfloor, maybe some good old Job Instruction training is in order. This obviously couldn't and shouldn't be an in-depth thing, but a quick announcement and demonstration by the event staff might go a long way towards gaining compliance. It also might be goofy and a waste of time in the eyes of the attendees!

  3. You've both got it right. The organics barrel has to be red with a picture above the lid showing a sandwich; the paper receptable has to be blue with a picture of sheaths of paper above the lid; the bottles & cans box has to be green with a picture of bottles & glass & cans above the lid.Mike Davis ex-Toyota http://www.mma.ca

  4. Could adding a "mixed waste" bin help? It could very well have too much garbage, but what's left for "specialized bins" would possibly be sorted way better as those would be used more by the people who actually care at the moment when they have time to care rather than by people who are just forced to sort garbage regardless of their attitude, time and experience (yeah, experience. Should paper cup with remainings of coffee go to paper, organics or even plastics since paper cups are made of unusual paper?)

  5. I feel kind of like an elephant hiding behind a flagpole for suggesting with going to the gemba first (since I tell people to do that) but since you are asking – I definitely think the suggestions above that I would kind of folloe the theme of visuality would are probably good ideas. Since these were there to support a specific gathering, is it possible a lot of the stuff going in these were of a few specific types. If so, use those specific things (if water bottles or plastic cups for water were passed out at the event, or if lunch was service then the disposable plates and utensils) in the visual scheme – maybe not even pictures of them – use the things themselves maybe.


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