Four Coloured Traffic Lights

How To Use A Traffic Light System To Eliminate Waste

In the Lean System a definition of waste is “anything for which the customer will not pay.”

Whilst I quite like this definition I think it is too broad to enable sensible analysis of what is really happening and what we want to happen and therefore to my mind does not allow us to properly eliminate or reduce to the minimum true non-effective tasks within the organisation.

Sticking strictly to effective tasks only or “distinguishing between the vital few and the trivial many” as Greg McKeown puts it in his fabulous book Essentialism is critical to running an effective organisation and also fits well with the objective of the thirty hour effective week.

Welcome to my traffic light system:

Traditional Three Coloured Traffic Lights

The difference between the traditional system and mine is that I use four colours, Green, Amber, Black and Red to analyse all tasks. Everything you do can be categorised as one of those four.

GREEN – Those tasks that move you or the organisation toward the stated goals. They may or may not have an immediate income earning effect. These tasks are the most important and should be priority. If using the Ivy Lee method (more about this is a later blog) It will only be GREEN tasks that appear in your daily three most important tasks. All of this assumes that everyone in the organisation knows what the goals are – not always the case!!!!

This is one of the areas which LEAN would describe as waste as your customer will not pay for you to develop your business toward your ultimate goals. Your customer will only pay for things that satisfy their immediate needs. GREEN tasks are not waste and are in fact more important than anything else.

AMBER – Those tasks that generate immediate income. These are the tasks for which your customer will pay. They are very important to make sure your business and indeed you survive in the short run but they do not necessarily move you toward your ultimate goal and may need to be eliminated in the long run and replaced by better tasks.

BLACK – These are statutory or essential tasks that you must carry out or fall foul of the law. Areas such as accounts, payroll, health and safety, essential maintenance and statutory returns fall into this category. Our objective is to carry these out in the most effective way possible to enable us to comply with our legal requirements.

RED – Literally everything else. If it is not GREEN, AMBER OR BLACK  it must be eliminated. If the task does not move us toward our objective, does not earn us immediate income and is not a legal / essential requirement why on earth are we doing it? Many emails. reports, meetings and items such as travel fall into the RED category. GET RID OF THEM!!!

In future blogs I will be looking at time recording and how to actually categorise work and so please look out for those.

In the meantime – What have you done today that could  be described as code RED? Why are you even contemplating doing it again tomorrow, next week, next month or indeed ever? Eliminate it and reap the reward.

If you want to look at this further we have both manufacturing and service simulations to enable everyone to be more effective then please contact us for details.

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