Dr. Shigeo Shingo, one of architects of the Toyota Production System, in his own
inimitable style comes up with the above intriguing observation about Manufacturing
The point he is making here is that in Manufacturing Processes because of capacity
differences some manufacturing steps are very busy while others are waiting for things to
do. This can also because some manufacturing operations like drilling or machining may be
common ones and may be busier than an operation that slaps wheels on to cars or trucks.
In such cases, the busy operations may make work in progress items wait, while not so busy
operations will be waiting for things to do.
Moving items waiting for processing from busy work steps to not so busy resources elsewhere
will improve overall throughput. Measuring Time in those operations does not mean you will
be able to improve the overall time taken! The point here is that TAT for the operations are not important compared to the in between waiting times.
The same principle applies, only a 100 fold in Service Business Processes!
Automobile Repair when going through an Insurance Company’s claims department is a classic
example! Here measuring time for individual operations does not help much in overall
If you have an automobile accident in the U.S and you are handling the repair through an
insurance claim, it takes anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks to get your car back from the
As someone who has spent a lot of time watching the insurance claims process up close
at another startup company, the time spent on Value-adding activities compared to
non-value adding activities is startling!
Actual repair (the only value adding activity from the customer’s point of view)
on an average takes only about 1 or 2 days but all the other elapsed time is spent
on somebody waiting for someone or some papers to sent, read or approved!
Insurance companies know about this and in the past have done some things to speed things
up – like uploading electronic pictures of the damaged car instead of taking 35mm pictures,
have them developed and then sent by courier like they used to, even about 10 years ago.
They also send people out with laptops on which Repair Estimation software speeds up the creation
and transmission of a repair estimate electronically to the Insurance Company claim servers.
However, there is still a lot of waste – of effort, motion, waiting time – just
waiting for someone to take a hard look at and eliminate!
When the Japanese say go, see, observe the process (like in Genchi Gembutsu – going to
the workplace and just standing there and observing how a manufacturing step is being
executed), it could not be more appropriate to business processes!
Once you observe how a business process is executed, especially in services, even not using a
stop watch, other ideas will pop up to reduce the overall turnaround time and
the throughput! And many of them may not have much to do with actual time spent on useful work!
There is so much scope for eliminating so many non value-adding work and more importantly waiting times!
Yes. Sometimes, you don’t need a clock to measure time, indeed!
Time is an Illusion. Lunchtime, Doubly so.
— Douglas Adams, Author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.