Toddlers are Type-1 muda generators.

Right now I’m reading the book Lean Thinking, and one early idea it talks about that I really like is the distinction between two types of muda (waste):

  1. Steps that create no value but are presently unavoidable due to the constraints of the current setup.
  2. Steps that create no value and are avoidable in the current setup.

Obviously it’s much harder to eliminate Type 1 muda than Type 2 muda, since the former require a total restructuring of your process. In practice, this means that as you pick off the low-hanging fruit of Type 2 wastes, you must tolerate Type 1 wastes until you have the resources to make more radical changes (and you must make them eventually if you want to have a truly lean operation).

An everyday-life example of a currently-unavoidable Type 1 waste is the large amount of waiting we have to tolerate right now. On days when only one parent is home with our toddlers (and often when both of us are home with them), there’s very little time to work on anything besides direct and indirect childcare. Other tasks requiring any kind of concentration are limited to a rushed hour or two during the daily nap, plus a few extra hours some days when our babysitter is here, and whatever we have energy for between the toddlers’ bedtime and ours.

We try to fit in what we can, but inevitably we can’t get to everything we want to with so little time available. So, many tasks simply have to wait. This takes two general forms:

  • Some tasks are never started. Any task requiring a big block of time that cannot be paused midway are rarely attempted. We just don’t have many of those time blocks, and those we do have are often spent catching up.
  • Most other tasks are broken into little pieces that can be done here and there over the course of a day or over several days.

An ideal lean process has of an unobstructed flow of value-creating steps from the moment a need is identified (by a customer, for instance) through to the moment that need is satisfied (by a product or outcome). That flow has no waiting, no buffers, no work-in-progress sitting around, just a smooth and ceaseless chain of value-creating activities from start to finish.

So, clearly many or most of our everyday processes aren’t truly lean right now because they don’t have this kind of flow at all. Indeed, they won’t really have it until the toddlers become much more self-sufficient. How do we respond to this?

I’m trying hard to avoid just throwing up my hands and giving up for the time being on our attempts at a leaner life. My understanding of lean techniques suggests that as we change to a leaner way of doing things, resources will become available that we never had before (such as time to work on other things). In other words, lean techniques don’t have to be a casualty of our situation; they may actually be a remedy for our situation.

But it will take patience. Right now, we have a lot more time for picking off those minor Type-2 mudas than we have for more fundamental Type-1 muda elimination, and we’ll have to be satisfied with that. Meanwhile, I’ll hang on to the reasonable expectation that as Type-2 mudas are extinguished, we’ll find ourselves with more time to work towards the potentially greater rewards that come from quashing Type-1 problems.


About adbenking

A journeyman sociologist living in Chicagoland.
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2 Responses to Toddlers are Type-1 muda generators.

  1. Pingback: 5S in the kitchen #5: “Kaizen” versus “Kaizen blitzes.” | Everyday Lean

  2. Kevin Flynn says:

    Excellent real-life example. Well done

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