Updated: Feb 2, 2021
The Origin of the problem - "Linearity at work" goes back to early1990s when Western World introduced 8th Muda of Lean and embraced not only in manufacturing but also in production and service sectors. " Muda" is a Japanese term which means "wastefulness".
To understand this completely we need a brief tour of origin of Lean. Lean was primarily an inspired concept and adopted from Toyota Production System. The original seven wastes (Muda) was developed by Taiichi Ohno, the Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). The seven wastes are Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over processing and Defects. The TPS mantra always has been "MAXIMISING PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY THROUGH THE ELIMINATION OF WASTE".
The core mission of TPS was to provide the customer with the highest quality vehicles, at lowest possible cost, in a timely manner with the shortest possible lead times. To provide members with work satisfaction, job security and fair treatment. It gives the company flexibility to respond to the market, achieve profit through cost reduction activities and long-term prosperity. Also note that TPS only had 7 Mudas originally since it was primarily for manufacturing industry during the early 1950s when the concept was born. The concept gained popularity throughout the world due to primarily 3 things, Quality, efficiency and maximizing Profit. Although I intend not to waste much time going deeper into this since I believe I will have to write a book on this subject to detail it's flaw and misuse later on, however I would leave you with just this that in 1969 Dr. Martin Bames introduced the thumb rule concept of project management which we now know as the famous "IRON TRIANGLE"
Accordingly to the project management triangle Time, Quality and Cost cannot be achieved at the same time, you can achieve any 2 variations at any given point in time. This directly challenges the TPS concept " highest quality vehicles, at lowest possible cost, in a timely manner with the shortest possible lead times"
So somewhere you have to let go of either quality, cost or time to stay on TPS path. I would leave this topic right here for the interest of the original topic. I will go deeper some other time in some other article.
So back to the topic, TPS success story soon made headlines and Western World during the boom economic years of 1980s and 1990s pounced on this concept to maximize profits.
Lean Manufacturing was coined in 1991 by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their book The Machine That Changed the World, in which they compared Japanese and American companies. The most efficient turned Toyota Motor Company with its Toyota Production System (TPS). The TPS was hailed the first system working in accordance with the guidelines of Lean. In 2001, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones published „Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation”, in which they precisely defined the foundations of the Lean Philosophy (Cholewicka-Goździk K, 2001, translation mine, ŁD). Lean Manufacturing is regarded as a successor of the TPS. ( Journal of International Studies, The Origins and Evolution of Lean Management System )
Please note Lean although adopted from TPS almost completely destroyed the core mission of TPS and focused on Creating Wealth for Corporations. THATS THE INFLECTION POINT IN THIS STORY. The idea of work satisfaction, job security and fair treatment, flexibility to respond to the market, long-term prosperity only remained as name only, rather pushed to the back burner and idea of achieve profit through cost reduction activities became the on ground reality of Lean. Added to this injury the introduction and application of 8th Muda ( waste of human resource and skill) completed the greed Circle of Corporations. Now lets look at the 8th Muda, what does it say ?
" The 8th waste is also described as the waste of unused human talent and ingenuity. This waste occurs when organizations separate the role of management from employees. In some organizations, management’s responsibility is planning, organizing, controlling, and innovating the production process. The employee’s role is to simply follow orders and execute the work as planned. By not engaging the frontline worker’s knowledge and expertise, it is difficult to improve processes. This is due to the fact that the people doing the work are the ones who are most capable of identifying problems and developing solutions for them" ( https://theleanway.net/The-8-Wastes-of-Lean )
As you can see that the theory of 8th Muda is not the problem, the misuse and application is. 8th Muda on ground is used as a tool to get less employees to do more work so that organizations can save costs and maximize profit. I leave it upto you to decide whether 8th Muda application is done properly or not in your company or misused to just increase profit in the name of Best Practice of Lean.
In the first chapter of this article, I have given data on how squeezing human resources and increasing their utilization ( linearity) is killing people and throwing them in the bucket of preventable diseases, increasing work hours however reducing productivity ( Remember the IRON TRIANGLE) of Japan. In this chapter I will tell you what happens when Humans are treated differently than machine.
Performance Psychologist Jim Loehr and Author Tony Schwartz who has worked with Tennis players like Sabatini, Pete Sampras, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Aranta Sanchez and many more and helped them to win some of their first titles, worked with Golfers, hockey players, boxers, basketball players, FBI hostage rescue squads, hospital critical care unit workers, US marshals, Sales, teachers, clergy, managers etc. wrote their findings very elaborately in their book " The power of full engagement" . What Jim found was, the top performers regardless of their industry or field of work had one thing in common, it was not their skill or talent, some had them while some other had less, but the common factor was how they are all managing their energy throughout their work or play. NOT TIME, BUT ENERGY.
Just like rhythmicity of nature and our organs which are non linear, these top performers knew intentionally or accidentally how to switch on and switch off. They measured using EKG telemetry that between breaks how the top player's heart beats drops by almost 20 beats per minute allowing them to recover faster than their opponents so that they sustain good performance throughout the match. So when they worked with clients Jim and Tony did not focus on improving strength or skills or fitness, they focused on energy management and owing to them even titles were won, hostages were rescued with better security, lives were saved under stress by hospital workers and they are helping corporates as well. Unlike athletes or soldiers who spend their time training for 90% of year and in action for 10 % of the time, corporate athletes are off for only 30 to 40 days in a year and that too ruminating about work and checking emails on vacation.
We are never fully disengaged from work and recovering. Result is burnout, diseases, poor performance, stress, low productivity, low morale, low profit and most importantly deaths. The principle of rest and recovery is essential to existence, its a law of nature. Studies suggest that every 90 to 120 mins your body gives you sign to rest, like a yawn or willingness to stretch, back or neck ache, feel like walking. These are natural signs. We humans are good at adapting, so we try to recover using artificial means since our work place is not helping us, so we go to coffee to recover, we go to fast unhealthy food to save time, we prefer to drink post work to disengage and cool down, some even use sleeping pills to sleep and silence their conscious brain. You will be surprised that when we sleep, we have similar sleep cycles of 90 to 120 mins where we move from light sleep to deep sleep, the phenomenon is called BRAC ( basic rest activity cycle). Off course we cannot runaway from consequences of breaking the natural order. This is the same reason our parents could easily work for 60 years and then retire, some even could work till 70 years and more but we find it hard even to imagine that we will do a job for 60 years, In India for example if you ask someone about retirement, the age of 40 to 45 years will be heard more commonly since subconsciously we know that we will be unable to work for so long under this stress, this triggers a behavior of jumping boats too often for a better paycheck since at the back of the mind you know that you are just maximizing your income at the expense of loyalty just like how companies are maximizing profits at the expense of employees & customers. The short term thinking is not only being done by companies but also employees. People are more comfortable and open to start a business than doing a job. Owning or starting a business is not a deal of less stress and less work rather it is opposite however as humans we are willing to spend extra hours happily if we do something what we love to do, what we want to do and that keeps the cortisol level low as a result stress is low as a result impact on health is low. In a job typically not many employees have a say on what he wants to do, so job is mostly done for food and shelter. So the challenge for leaders and organizations is to build and foster a culture at work where even if majority of your people are working for a paycheck but they feel connected and inspired by the vision and values of the company.
We have committed sins not mistakes in trying to make profits over human lives. This does not need to be never ending. We can change this, in the next decade onwards we will start having the next generation of CEOs and leaders. We need to start thinking now, talking now, taking actions now to improve workplace culture so that our next generation is safe and lives a healthier life. Recovery should be natural not artificial. Coffee should not replace a walk or yoga, healthy time consuming food should not be replaced with unhealthy fast food, alcohol must not replace family time, pill must not replace natural sound sleep, emails and phones must not hijack off time. Let machines be linear and humans be non linear.
" The power of full engagement " - Tony Schwartz & Jim Loehr