Getting started with Lean? Here's a simple way to remember the 8 kinds of waste and how they apply to the practice of law.
Every so often it is fun to stop looking at the forest and pay attention to the trees. Today, rather than talking about some overarching theme of legal service delivery or the legal profession, I’d like to ask the question: Have you seen Tim Woods today?
If you are knowledgeable about lean thinking, then you know what I’m asking. If not, get ready to learn about some trees.
You Can’t See the Forest for the Muda
Lean thinkers focus on waste, which we call muda. To make processes more efficient and move closer to the value stream (those steps that take us from beginning to end of a process and which add value), we use lean thinking approaches to remove muda from processes. Muda can sound a bit abstract, so the early lean thinkers helped us out by dividing muda into seven types. Over time, an eighth type was added. Still, it is hard to remember the eight types of muda. A clever person came up with the acronym “Tim Woods” to help us remember them. Another clever person piled on, by coining the question: “Have you seen Tim Woods?”
We encounter muda every day. It is all around us and present in everything we do.
Lean thinkers strive to reach perfection—that state where all waste has been removed from a process and only value remains—but so far no one has achieved the desired state.
It helps to remember, therefore, the eight types of muda and watch for them in what you do each day. You don’t have to engage in a kaizen event to get rid of all waste, you simply have to identify it and stop doing it.
The Muda Eight
With that in mind, I’m going to give you the eight types of waste and examples of them we see every day in practicing law. You can keep this post as a handy guide to remind you of the types of muda and that you should remove the wastes whenever you can. Remember, the examples I list below are just a very few of the types of muda you can find in the legal industry.
Transportation.Have you ever carried documents from one place to another? Have you walked from your office to a printer, picked up a document, and then walked back? These are examples of transportation waste. Even emailing documents back and forth is transportation waste.
Inventory.Since lawyers don’t build in advance of orders—we don’t draft complaints and hope someone asks us to file a lawsuit—this one can fool lawyers. But, we have plenty of excess inventory. People can be excess inventory. When you read about a law firm with too many lawyers who do X and not enough work for all of them, that firm is complaining about excess inventory.
Motion.I worked with a lawyer who loved his chair. He would roll from his desk to his filing cabinet, back to his desk, over to his table, back to his desk, and so on. He was motion waste personified. Do you spend time searching for that document or file buried somewhere in your office? Motion waste.
Waiting.You send an email and then wait two days for a response. A day after receiving the response you reply, and then you wait two more days for a response to your reply. All of that time between drafting and reading emails is waiting time, and that is muda. Lawyers spend lots of time waiting. Courts do too. Think how much waiting time there is between things happening in a lawsuit.
Over-production.Sometimes, over-production is very simple. A law firm drafts a memo, when a simple email response would have sufficed. That memo is themuda of over-production. Of course, there are more significant examples, such as taking 10 depositions in a lawsuit when three would have been sufficient.
Over-processing.This is the classic “all I wanted was a Chevy and they sent me a Cadillac” problem. The client just wants a quick review of the assignment clause, but the lawyer decides to review all clauses in the agreement and re-write many of them. The lawyer did not pay attention to what would make the document “fit for the client’s purpose” and so he over-processed the document.
Defects.The junior lawyer drafts the contract. The senior lawyer revises it (rework). The junior lawyer reviews the re-draft and corrects several incorrect references (rework of defects). The junior lawyer prepares an exhibit, but the senior lawyer decides not to use it (scrap). The production of legal services is filled with defects.
Skills.This is the eighth muda, added many years after the first seven were identified. Sometimes lean thinkers refer to it as a waste of talent. The partner asks the associate to draft a document, but doesn’t give the associate adequate direction (inadequate training). Or, the partner decides to hoard the drafting to himself, because he wants more billable hours (under utilization of capabilities). In a broader sense, many lawyers do work that is well below their skill level, or that computers could do. These are all examples of skill muda.
If you haven’t done anything with lean thinking, but want to start, you can do so right now.
As you work through the day, ask yourself whether what you are doing fits into TIM WOODS. If it does, then ask yourself if there is way to avoid doing the wasteful step and if you can, eliminate that step. One easy way to separate waste from value is to pose the following question: If I sat down with my client and asked how much she was willing to pay me to do X, would she be willing to pay me anything? If the answer is “yes,” than the step may have value. If the answer is “no,” then the step is waste and you should eliminate it. Starting a lean journey can be easy, but mastering lean can take a lifetime. In a lean world, the only thing worse than finding waste is not taking the steps to get rid of it.