Defects

In a manufacturing environment you should be striving for zero defects. Defects are imperfections in products or services that render them below the expectations of your customer. A dent in a can of soda, a brake system that doesn’t work on a car, a mistake in your taxes, these are all examples of defects. The defect rate (the ratio of how many bad to how many good products) is more important for certain kinds of products. For example, a soda manufacturer and a pace maker manufacturer probably have a different view of defect rate and its importance. If the soda maker has a high defect rate, the customer may be unhappy and there may be a high cost associated with a recall or loss. If a pace maker manufacturer has a high defect rate people will die. A defect rate of 100 parts per million may be great for a soda manufacturer, but it would be disastrous for the pace maker manufacturer.

As humans in a fallen world, we also have defects. Our defect ratio is much more important than even the pace maker manufacturers. Our rate determines if we will enter the gates of Heaven or suffer the lack of God’s light in hell. Now, the triune God is not sitting on a cloud with a calculator and a spreadsheet deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. It is us who should be keeping track of our defects. You must know where you are weak, or where you have issues that can separate you from God. Where are your defects? We need to find them and spend time on them to make sure that the defect rate is as low as possible. The advantage we have is that we have the best customer ever – God. Our customer does not care if you have a defect, much less your defect rate. He wants you as you are. Bruised, dented, torn, leaking – whatever. He just wants you to know that He loves you. The reason we need to be keeping track of our defects is that we can’t truly know God’s love if we have areas of our lives with defect rates through the roof. We can’t continue to view pornography on the internet and know God’s love for us. We can’t back stab people at work or gossip and know God’s longing for our friendship. He is panting after us, friends. Wake up, know where you are prone to spiritual defects, and go after them again and again.

A Must Read

The owner of the world’s most renowned vineyard receives a package that he must pay 1 million euros or his vines will be poisoned. There’s a very detailed map of the vineyard with a circle around the targeted vines.

He writes it off as a hoax.

He receives another package within 10 days.

This time, there are 2 circles. One showing where to leave the money and the other detailing the 80 vines that have been poisoned.

Now the vintner calls the cops.

This is a must read story from Vanity Fair.

Muda (Waste)

Muda, according to the authors of Lean Thinking, is the one Japanese word you really must know. It means wasteful activities, called simply waste by most organizations. I like to use muda, personally, because it comes off the tongue harshly; it has a great effect when spoken. It should be a harsh word since it is what holds you back in a business. Waste is what stands between you and high profit, shorter lead times, and greater customer satisfaction. But muda is also what stands between you and God. Waste, remember, is simply anything a customer is not willing to pay for.

Now, since muda is waste, it also refers to non-value added activities. These are those specific things customers do not want to pay for. An example would be the cost you incur by having to rework finished product because it was not what your customer wanted. You forgot to put a code onto a can of soup, so now you have to go back and code all the product. This is enormously time consuming, costly, and painful. Now think of your spiritual life – aren’t there so many things you do that do not add value to your relationship with God? I know I have those things. Whether it’s people I allow myself to be around that don’t bring me closer to God, or habits I have that put a barrier between me and God. I’m sure you also have many things in your life that are value-added to God. Things that bring you closer to Him. But we must strive to remove all the waste from our spiritual lives. Right now. This is what Paul was saying in Romans 12:2 when he said, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Emphasis added)”

It is said by lean authors that 95% of a typical process in any business is comprised of wasteful activities.

If we examine our daily routines, I think we may find something close to the same. If I think about my own life, during a typical work day I get up early and do a devotional for 10-20 minutes. I may pray some throughout the day, and then before dinner with my wife. But what did I do the rest of the day to add value to my relationship with the one true God that loves me above all else? If I keep in mind that at the end of my life what matters is what I did to bring others to God and if I accepted Jesus as the Christ and savior, then I can reach that 95% pretty quickly.

Folks, this isn’t good enough. We can do better. I can do better. God knows you can and He wants to help. By identifying the activities in your life as either value-added or non-value added, it makes prioritizing your daily activities much easier. Does that show you watch every Thursday perpetuate a spiritual vice of yours? Stop watching. Does that website you go to every day feed your lust for pornography? Stop going to it. Eliminate the waste. We must be focused and efficient in our spiritual lives. The devil loves downtime – it’s when he does his best work.

Most of us avoid examining the wasteful activities in our lives because we are scared of what we might find. The same is true in a normal organization. Most people in these traditional places of business keep throwing the same solutions at old problems that keep coming back. Employees bicker and try to “throw other people under the bus” in an attempt to glorify themselves and hide the true state of the business. It doesn’t make sense. In a true lean organization what you would find is the company tackling its problems head-on. A foundational principle of lean ideology is respect. I keep a quote on my desk that says, “No one knows the work better than the people who do it.” It reinforces the idea that we need to have respect for each other in the workplace and be honest about the business. Let’s stop trying to blame one another and instead use that energy to fix the problem together. Lean, in this sense, is very similar to the Christian faith. People are incredibly, and predictably,  resistant to change. Spiritual inertia is no different. Jesus himself knew this. Just after delivering the most famous line in the Bible, He said this, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3: 19-21).”

It’s worth noting that this idea of driving out the waste in your spiritual life does not mean living the life of a monk. If taken to the seemingly logical conclusion, my argument may be understood to mean “do nothing but pray.” But this assumption would be incorrect. There is value in things that we take for granted. There is value in the mundane and simple facets of everyday life. See, talking to a lost coworker or friend about something that is not even related to God is not wasteful. Indeed, it can be exactly the opposite. Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, says, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” 1 Cor. 9:19, 9:22. The time invested with someone to build a relationship and ultimately bring them into a relationship with God is the goal for a Christian. Anything that is in pursuit of this must never be construed as waste.

The Lean Christian: Introduction

Introduction

I am the Lean Coordinator. Banisher of waste. The enemy of all things inefficient. My arsenal is a quiver, filled not with arrows, but Japanese buzz words. Kaizen, poka-yoke, muda. You may have no idea what I am talking about. You may really have no idea how this has anything to do with being a better Christian. If so, then you are on the same journey that I was not so long ago.

We are all looking for significance. We seek it in our devotionals, our spiritual retreats, through churches, in prayer. But more than anything else, we seek significance in our jobs. In what we do. It is the area of our lives where we spend most of our time, for the majority of people. This is how I found my significance. This is not a life-long significance. I am not saying I found what I am supposed to be doing for the rest of my life. What I am saying is that there is significance in what you are doing right now. No day is useless. Indeed, it can become that way. But you have control over that. Find ways that link what you are doing to what God wants you to do. Find ways to relate your experiences to biblical teaching. You may find that what you are doing will actually bring some of the biblical teachings to life for you, as I have.

I am seeking my significance still; I always will. That is how I became a Lean Coordinator. I went in for an interview with my church, desperate to find a career with meaning. I was told the position I was interviewing for would not be a great fit, but that it would be prayed about and that I should do the same. I did, and the pastor that interviewed me was right – this is not what God had in store for me.

At the time I was doing a job that did not allow for me to utilize my creativity, which is a God-gift of mine. When stifled, I become bored, and everything becomes mundane to the point that I shut down. That’s why I was in the interview at church. I felt a little disappointed when the position turned out not to be for me. I didn’t have to wait much longer for something that could give me some significance. Less than a month went by, and I was offered the position of Lean Coordinator at my company. This is something I thought would take me years to reach. God had come knocking. I didn’t know it at the time, but this path would strengthen my spiritual life in ways that I could never have foreseen.

What is it?

Alright, so what is a Lean Coordinator? Let’s start with lean. Lean is a different way of thinking in the business world. A systematic way of reducing waste while striving for continuous improvement is one definition. Doing more and more with less and less is another.  The goal is to strive for the removal of all wasteful activities in a process.

To understand what I mean, let’s look at an example. Picture an automobile assembly line, perhaps one like Henry Ford made famous. At each point on the assembly line the idea is for each worker to be doing something to add value to the car. Installing a safety mechanism, adding a gas petal, etc. These kinds of activities are called value-added activities, because they add something to the product that the customer would be willing to pay for. But think of all the things that happen at those work stations. You have people walking to get parts, fixing something that was done wrong the step before, and spending time setting up the machine for their job. None of these add value to the finished product. These are non-value added activities. A lean thinker is looking for ways to eliminate all such activities.

To remove all waste from a process is striving for perfection. Something that is unattainable, yet we still pursue it. Why? Because it makes you better. Starting to sound more Christian? Now, to get there, there are a variety of tools, methodologies, and yes, Japanese buzz words. I will walk you through each one and explain how you can apply it to your spiritual life and become a Lean Christian.

Hang In There…

I was watching a TEDTalks speech last night given by Alex Tabarrok in 2009. Here’s some info on Tabarrok from the TED bio page:

Tabarrok’s fascinations include the intersection among economics, law and public policy — examining questions such as how race and poverty affect the outcome of jury trials. Tabarrok is also the Director of Research for the Independent Institute, an assistant editor for the Independent Review, and an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University.

His blog (marginalrevolution.com) is one of the hottest out there, and it’s usually a fascinating read.

TED, by the way, is awesome. I was introduced to it by my wife a few months ago and have been addicted ever since. The website is jammed full of videos of speeches from the most interesting people across a wide spectrum of interests.

On TED.com, we make the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free. Almost 900 TEDTalks are now available, with more added each week.

Back to my story: A slide in Tabarrok’s presentation was very encouraging given our current dismal economic and employment numbers. The recession is often referred to as “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” And rightfully so. But the good news is, after the Great Depression our economy grew faster than ever before. Look at the graph he showed:

It’s a bit hard to see, I Ctrl+Prnt Scren’d it. Along the bottom is the year, starting in 1900 and ending in 2007. On the Y-axis is real GDP per capita in the United States. Right at 1930 (when the Depression hit), you can see the steep drop-off that was created by the economic meltdown.

The interesting things are the two arrows, one red and one black. The red arrow shows what the projected trend would have been just before the Great Depression. The black arrow is another version of the same, only a bit more optimistic. Now remember, these would be the projections before you knew anything about the Depression.

Here’s where the encouragement comes in: after we recovered from the Depression, our annual increase in real GDP per capita was much higher than anything anyone would have predicted in the first half of the 20th century.

So hang in there America. If history teaches us anything, it’s that this recession could be a small step back that leads to 4 steps forward.

I’ll end with a quote from Mr. Tabarrok’s talk,

“Growth can wash away even what appears to be a great recession.”

Watch the TEDTalks with Alex Tabarrok:

Is Your Industry Dying?

Wall Street Journal has a story that includes a chart of the Top 10 Dying Industries:

“The list isn’t exactly shocking, but it represents a mix of sectors that are being left behind by technology or have been hurt by cheaper overseas competition.”

I think Formal Wear and Costume Rental surprises me the most…