Our friend Bob Emiliani won a Shingo Prize for his book Better Thinking, Better Results, and he has contributed many thought-provoking articles to Superfactory. This month we published his article titled The Tragedy of Waste, which also was added to our History of Excellence section. I’d encourage you to take a look at the growing "Timeline of Manufacturing Excellence" that appears on that page.
Many of us know at least a little about early lean history, such as Henry Ford’s book Today and Tomorrow from 1926 that discussed waste and influenced the thinking of Taiichi Ohno. Stuart Chase wrote a book a year earlier titled The Tragedy of Waste that Henry Ford probably read. Bob Emiliani does an excellent job of dissecting Chase’s work and showing how it influenced nascent lean thinking.
Chase’s interest in waste began with the observation that at the beginning of World War I almost 25% of the workforce was displaced to fight within a very short time period… just a few months. Traditional thinking would predict that the nation’s productive output would also fall, but in fact it did the opposite… it actually increased.
Chase attributes this to a combination of "the danger factor" and the sudden labor shortage driving a requirement for the shortest and most straight line process. Current day lean companies such as Toyota are always aware of "the danger"… the competition, and never rest on their laurels even when they’re number one in their industry. if you can increase output with a 25% labor reduction, especially on a macro level, it’s pretty obvious how much of the original process was waste of some form or another.
Whereas Ohno talks about the "seven wastes," Chase identifies four major types of waste:
- Wastes in consumption
- Idle man-power
- Wastes in technique
- Wastes of natural resources
He takes a specific aim at the "overhead professions," and in particular calls advertising "the life blood of quackery." However he does advocate the education of the consumer, which led him to be one of the founders of Consumer Research in 1929, which eventually became Consumer Reports.
Take a look at Bob Emiliani’s article to learn more about what Chase thought of line balancing, process variation, and even the psycho/social and political aspects of waste. Luke Van Dongen at the Lean Blog has also written a great Q&A with Bob Emiliani on the article.