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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: (How to) Do the Work

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 11, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.


Define "work."

Not thinking in terms of one's job or place of employment, explain the physical process known as "work." It is a word that many understand, conceptually, but cannot articulate a true definition.

To simplify, for the topic at hand, let's define work as using effort to bring about a desired result. This definition has two important components – effort (force is being exerted) and result (there is a clearly defined goal). The goal is what makes it work. Effort without a goal is merely an exercise or, to wax a little whimsical, it's play.

The concept of work can be further broken down. A teenager is told by a parent to mow the lawn. As the teenager sets out to accomplish this goal through effort (to work), there are three distinct aspects of the task that will actually be performed. These are the components of work in which the teenager will engage:

Genuine Work
Also known as the work. Value added steps. The act of pushing the lawn mower across the yard so that the blades can chop off the tops of unruly grass is the genuine work of mowing the lawn.

Supplemental Work
"What you gotta do to do what you gotta do." Supplemental work is pieces of the process that don't directly accomplish the goal but prepare for it. In the lawn mowing task, checking the oil, putting gas in the mower, and picking up sticks in the yard all fall under the category of supplemental work. These tasks don't actually accomplish cutting the grass, but they are integral to performing the end task. The goal of supplemental work is streamlining; it's automation – make it easier, faster, cheaper in order to get to the genuine work done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Muda (Waste)
Or non-value added steps. The opposite of work. Muda comes in many forms, the most common of which are:

  • Waiting: The teenager forgot the keys to the shed and has to wait until Mom comes home.
  • Errors: The teenager put gasoline in the oil compartment and now has to take the mower to the shop.
  • Excess of Inventory or Equipment: There are three lawn mowers in the shed and the teenager doesn't know which to use so he/she has to create a "pro/con" list for all three.
  • Unnecessary Movement (people or equipment): The lawn mower is at Grandma's house.
  • Space Not Being Utilized Properly: There is a pile of other lawn equipment in front of the lawn mower that has to be moved for access.
  • Over-processing or Unnecessary Tasks: The teenager first has to take pictures of the lawn to post on Instagram.

Needless to say, the goal in dealing with waste is to eliminate it. Cut it out. Don't try to streamline muda. Get rid of it. You won't be 100% effective, but going in with that mindset is always the best policy.

It is in understanding these components of work and being able to identify (document) them that an organization can begin to experience true quality improvement.

When a big order appears on the horizon or there has been a service issue/failure and an organization finds itself having to get a larger quantity of work done – having to ship more product or perform more service or make more inventory than it normally does – the standard response is often to throw resources at the task. Hire more staff. Approve overtime. Rent more equipment. Implementing these countermeasures will, technically, result in more genuine work (100 people will produce more effort than 20 people) but – and this is a huge caveat – in doing so, the same percentage of supplemental work and, more dishearteningly, the same percentage of muda will also be produced. This is because, in situations where problems are solved by "throwing money or people at them," the process isn't improved, merely amplified. To put it in more fiscal terms, if twenty people doing an inefficient process, rife with muda and redundant supplemental tasks that result in wasting an hour of their time, end up ostensibly being paid to do nothing for an hour, is it somehow better to pay 100 people to waste that same hour just because the end result is technically more work not being done? After all, who pays for that wasted hour?

The goal of Kaizen is to examine processes and refine them as to steamline the supplemental and eliminate the muda; what is left behind is more genuine work from the same resources – more bang for your buck, so to speak – maximizing the twenty workers on hand in order to accomplish the genuine work of 100 without the added waste. That is the true advantage of Kaizen.

Next month's article will begin to focus on the process of using PDCA to improve. Until then, remember, in physics, work / time = power. The same is true in logistics!


Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.

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Tags:  Kaizen 

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