Now that’s Lean Packaging

IMG_2250Imagine my delight when I opened the front door one day this week and there on the porch were two tractor tires held together with some strong packing tape. They’d been dropped off by one of our friendly delivery truck drivers. As you may know we live in a rural area called Comfort, Texas, outside of San Antonio, and are on a first name basis with the FedEx, UPS, and DHL drivers. Makes me wish I would have invested in cardboard stock about the time that Amazon and Ebay began. We have a shed that fills up with cardboard boxes from all the shipments we get from Amazon, Staples, and other sundry suppliers.

But I digress.

I’d ordered the tires for my 17 year-old garden tractor whose old “Turf Saver” front tires would no longer hold air. I was pleased that the tires are still made and available from a variety of sources. So I ordered based on price and forgot about it for about a week.

Packaging is Waste if it doesn’t Add Value

If you are a already a fan of Lean thinking and The Toyota Way then there isn’t anything for you here other than a smile and another fun example. But if you aren’t yet aware of the thinking sweeping across the planet about what’s value and what’s waste, I’ll explain why I was delighted by the way my tractor tires were shipped.

The Deodorant Story

If I have the story right, it goes like this: A Wal*Mart stocker one night a few years ago stopped placing packages of deodorant on the shelf long enough to look at the single package of deodorant in his hand and wonder how much more would fit on the shelf if it didn’t have all that packaging around each single unit. Soon, the night manager had stockers unwrapping deodorant and other items from their packaging and placing the price label right on the item itself before stacking it on the shelf. That way, they could fit more on the shelf and have to restock less frequently. These steps saved money for Wal*Mart and for you.

Then someone looked at the pile of empty packaging that they hauled off to the trash compactor every night. They wondered: How much are we paying the manufacturer to put each single unit of deodorant (or you-name-it) into a pretty package, pay for the shipping, and then for us to unpack it and throw away the packaging?

You know where this is going…

Before long Wal*Mart’s buyers were prescribing to manufactures how to eliminate all that wasteful packaging that no one wanted to pay for. It lowered costs which means you and I now get more deodorant for our buck and Wal*Mart remains true to their pledge of lower prices everyday.

Next time you go to Wal*Mart, or even your grocery store, notice how much less packaging many products now have compared to years ago. You’ll be amazed.

The Moral?

The basis of Lean thinking is that every input, step, and action in every business is either value or waste. Value is what the customer is willing to pay for. Waste is what the customer is not willing to pay for. If you are constantly asking yourself What is our customer willing to pay for and what are we doing that the customer doesn’t want to pay for? you are practicing one of the basic principles of lean thinking.

Back to the Tractor Tires

IMG_2251What are tires made of? Black rubber.

Why? To take a beating and cushion the vehicle from the road, or in my tractor’s case, the grass and dirt.

So why put the things in a big expensive cardboard box (have you ever bought moving or shipping boxes!) to ship them?

Brilliant! Why not just tape the two tires together and tape the shipping label across them and put them on the truck? I was delighted both by the application of Lean thinking and the awareness that I wasn’t being charged for unnecessary packaging.

Maybe it Wasn’t a Digression

Remember that comment I made about the shed where we store cardboard? It accumulates so quickly and we want to recycle it, so about once a month or so we take a solid thirty minutes to flatten the boxes, load them in the truck, tie them down, and drive them twenty miles to Kerrville for recycling.

Imagine how much grumbling I might have done had I found myself carting off some needless huge box to the shed only to later have to flatten it and haul it to recycling.

I’m liking the sellers and shippers of my new tractor tires more every day.

Are you in Software, IT, Project Management, or Product Development?

Lean thinking makes a big difference in operations. It makes an even bigger difference where the primary activity depends on learning and innovation — like in software development and product development. And the biggest difference comes when you marry Lean thinking with Agile practices and support both with a mindset and culture of Responsibility and Ownership. Only in a culture of Responsibility can you effectively question everything and learn rapidly because you aren’t so intent on being right.

I’ve heard recently that 64% of features coded into software applications are rarely or never used. And I’ve heard that the amount of time that a developer’s efforts are actually adding value to the customer is 6%, or about 30 minutes of an 8 hour day.

If you’d like to transform your leadership mindset to one of Responsibility, Agility, and Lean thinking, let me know. I can help (and I won’t waste a minute of your time or attention).

Posted in Agile on 10/24/2009 03:17 pm
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