Saturday's Wall Street Journal had an article (“11 Minutes of Action“) with analysis that said something my wife noticed a long time ago – there's a lot of standing around during an NFL football game (or any football game, for that matter). The WSJ analysis, of course, wasn't done under the mantle of “lean” but I think it illustrates the opportunity for narrow lean thinking to miss the mark in a workplace.
The WSJ analysis wasn't that creative, you could argue they copied a Boston Globe story from last year that did a similar analysis of a Boston Celtics game (“NVA in the NBA – It's “Value Added”-tastic?“). Actually, you could argue (call my lawyers!) that the WSJ ripped off my blog post from almost exactly three years ago (“How Much of Football is VA?”) when my reader Chris wrote:
I use this in my orientation to new employees: How much time is value added in a standard three hour football game? 12 minutes.
You read it here first, three years ago. Just kidding about the lawyers, WSJ.
An NFL game, for the uninitiated, has four quarters of 15 minutes each. The clock doesn't run continuously like the other football (soccer), it stops after certain types of plays (out of bounds, incomplete pass, etc.). So the 60 minutes, with clock stoppages, TV commercials, halftime, etc. can take 3 or 3.5 hours. Of that time, because of calling plays, getting ready between plays, etc. that 60 minutes of game time really only has 11 minutes of action (from the snap of the ball to the time a play is blown dead).
As a football fan, I say “who cares?” Well, OK, I do care that there are a ton of commercials, but three hours for a football game is fine by me. I'm not the type to watch the DirecTV 30-minute condensed versions of a game (potential slogan: “Nothing but Value!” or “Muda-Free Football!”).
So to tie this to lean… who defines “value”? The customer! Is the point of a football game just those 11 minutes? No! What about the time thinking about strategy (especially if you're watching with friends)… or the lame conversations between announcers. What about the shots of cheerleaders? End zone celebrations (if they allowed them!) can be entertaining to watch. Would we really want the game to be shorter? Maybe not, if you enjoy the whole experience of three hours with friends or just three hours on the couch. The “value” in this context is probably more than the 11 minutes, and it depend on the individual fan.
Our friends at Evolving Excellence had a recent post (“Remember the Perspective of Value“) that illustrated the silliness of micro-analyzing the details of a performance of the Nutcracker and the “waste” that was identified in a way that missed the whole point and the whole context of an artistic performance.
A narrow minded view of value might get you, as a Lean person, in trouble at a hospital. I learned, early, from the nurses I was working with that “value” (in their minds and in the eyes of their customers, the patient) is not just direct diagnosis or treatment activity. Beyond taking vital signs and giving injections, there's a human caring element to nursing – the time spent talking to a patient, making them feel comfortable or giving them someone to talk to. That can play a major part in their healing. That's “value.”
That's why we defined “value” as the nurses observed each other's work as any time in the patient room. Overly generous? Maybe, but that approach emphasized we were trying to eliminate waste OUTSIDE of the patient room (based on where supplies and equipment were kept, for example) and not by asking the nurses to rush in and out of the rooms. What might have seemed “efficient” in a very narrow sense might have missed the mark completely for that nursing setting.
So be careful how you define value – not from a narrow technical perspective, but from a holistic, customer perspective.
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