By Kevin Meyer
Sometimes we forget that in the lean world value, and waste, is defined from the perspective of the customer. An article in a recent HPM Consortium newsletter does a good job of reminding us how important that perspective is.
Our good friend, Bob Bloomer, at Safran
Electronics in Peterborough, sent the following along. It
verifies that there is NOTHING that Lean Thinking cannot
be applied. This gives rise to the need to prioritize the
focus. With a smile, Bob reminds us through the following
case study, that generating value through lean very much
depends upon the vision you hold and the priorities you
select to ensure your customers’ success. Here it is:
Just watching a live performance of the Nutcracker
Ballet combines music, dancing, and story into a unique
experience. Unfortunately, for a critical Lean thinker, the
entire event is riddled with non-value added activities.
First, consider the music. A trained Lean observer can’t
help but notice the poor use of manpower in the orchestra.
For example, the first violin section has eight musicians
playing exactly the same notes. This is classic duplication
of labor and could be solved by having one well-trained
artist for each instrument. Furthermore, many passages of
music are repeated several times, often with only minor
variations. By simply eliminating duplicate musical phrases the cycle time of the entire performance could be reduced
by over 40%.
The dancing offers opportunities for significant
efficiency. In many cases the dancers enter from one side
and, instead of proceeding directly to their point of exit,
they swirl about making a variety of wasteful motions.
Occasionally – and this is difficult for a Lean technician to
believe – one dancer will even lift and carry a second
dancer! Obviously, the dancer being carried is totally
unnecessary to the process.
Also, there is a totally non-value added position called
the director. This person’s only contribution to the
performance is to swing a short wooden rod to keep time.
This role could be more efficiently performed by an
inexpensive metronome or, for visual control, by a strobe
Finally, the stage setting shows very little evidence of
standardization. There is a huge variation in colors of all
of the scenery and stage props. It is almost as though the
designers went out of their way to utilize every color
imaginable. Significant money could be saved by simply
standardizing on a pleasant, industrial gray color scheme.
In summary, some simple Lean techniques could
reduce the cycle time and labor content of a traditional
Nutcracker performance making it a much more
efficient and value-added experience.
I don't know about you, but I'll take the longer version, with the multiple violinist, and the director. It holds value, at least to me.
Although this is obviously written “tongue in cheek” it actually makes Lean appear out of touch with the reality of the situation. If one of our production associates were to read this, he or she would conclude that whoever wrote this does not fully understand the purpose of each aspect of the production and therefore is labeling a position or process as non-value added when in reality it very necessary to the overall process. This is the same as a manager determining there is waste in a production process because they do not understand everything needed to make a quality product. This article makes Lean to be a very bland and one dimensional way of thinking. I would be very hesitant to have my associates read this article.
Interesting perspective Dale. Perhaps that’s exactly why people should read this – to realize that lean is so much more. Yes there is a purpose behind the need for additional violinists, but it is a subtle purpose that is not immediately obvious until you change your point of view. A true music aficionado would also understand that multiple violinists create a blend of notes… in effect widening the error range on each note to soften the output? In what other industry to you introduce error to create value?
However maybe the better analogue is with cars – how much of sheet metal design is “waste” depending on perspective? But everyone understands how that waste is actually value from the perspective of the customer.
Mark Welch says
I absolutely love this post, Kevin. I can’t think of a better way to make the point that value is in the eye of the customer. For a person with Lean tunnel vision, it would appear at a glance, anyway, that The Nutcracker is full of waste, but to the customers/audience of The Nutcracker, who define value in a way many of us would not, these apparent “wastes” only add value.
I’m not into ballet, but I have a pretty good instrumental and vocal music background, and this post truly makes the point of the uniqueness of the perception of value.
Great post – adds value for me.
Andy Wagner says
I have a few friends who I would consider “serious” musicians, who find Tchaikovsky’s work quite repetitive. Interestingly, some of his most popular pieces are works that the composer himself hated for the same reason! They would agree with at least some of this assessment.
They would also agree that the conductor is Non-value added, but for altogether different reasons.
Jim Fernandez says
Do a value stream map of the production. Start at the end (Shipping) with the standing ovation from the audience. Then you won’t have to go any further with your map to look for customer value and waste.
Eric Wade says
Looks like a great discussion has been started by posting something rather different. There are so many good points to be made by this and I’m not at all surprised to see that the folks before me are making so many of these great points… what a smart bunch.
I didn’t like the article on my first read because I did overlook the “value to the customer” aspect of it but once you point that out, it makes the humorous message of dissecting The Nutcracker more obvious.
I always thought there were 8 violins so we could hear them, so I am interested to learn that instead it was so they could, through error, broaden the notes??? I’m going to give that some thought because there might be some wisdom in that for the arts but I am unsure of the wisdom of intentional error in the manufacturing process, unless you are manufacturing 1950’s – 1970’s Jaguars or Jackson Pollack artwork.
I’d like to take the other side of the argument and look at customer value. What if the customer comes to the theater expecting a performance of a certain length of time? Then does it not become “more lean” to have repetitions of verses as well as coaxing some of the dancers to twirl and turn back from time to time in order to fill the two hours with as little resources as as possible, specifically by reusing some dancers and extending some verses and lengthening many appearances on stage?
Really, this is a good way to discuss lean (IMHO) as a supplement to the expected manufacturing examples we read here.
Gabriel Gheorghiu says
Thank you, Bob Bloomer! This is the funniest article about lean I’ve ever read.
I too missed the value to the customer aspect when I first read this posting. After reading it again, I did see the point that was being made.
Once again, it is important to know who your customer is and what their expectations are. Value is in the eye of the beholder. I was invited to a performance twenty years ago that I did not see value in and I slept through most of it. Felt bad because the person who invited me paid $50 for the tickets. I am sure there were some present who fully appreciated it. For this customer, there was very little added value.
Graham Rankin says
I’ve some experience of Creative Arts from the inside and found the post amusing. But at this site you stress other aspects of Lean that are also essential to a good arts production – like real teamwork in rehearsals, striving for excellence in performance through quality and innovation, cutting extraneous material to focus audience attention, and having a clear sense of purpose throughout. Trust in leadership counts, as does the ability of directors to face up to criticism and deal with it. Valuing every cast member’s input is also essential- seeing their feedback incorporated in the production is a great morale-booster. I imagine all these features of a successful production can be found in a workplace run by people who know what they’re doing. They might not get an ovation at the end of it, but hopefully they stand a better chance in a recession of pulling through.