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  • Rod Morgan

Creating Effective Workplaces and Tales from the Kitchen Sink.

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Faucet image

Customer-focused thinkers like you recognize and passionately promote that value is defined by the customer and that any consumption of resources – people, equipment, materials, and time – should solely be for the purpose of creating value for the customer. We understand that this is a key principle of “Lean Thinking”.

Close your eyes and picture an organization with 1,000 employees. It could be in manufacturing, transportation, travel, healthcare, financial services, public service or government, telecommunications… any sector that you can possibly imagine.

Now, can you think of one activity that is common to every single employee? What possible “task”, regardless of the diverse roles represented in that organization, might that be?

Segue to the kitchen sink… It is a busy day in the family home. Kids are screaming (with joy, I hope), the dog is barking, the kettle is whistling, “Earth, Wind and Fire” is on the turntable (okay… I get it… I’m old!), the phone is ringing, the laundry is dinging… basically a typically day in the neighborhood (thank you, Mister Rogers).

Out of the corner of your eye, you see that the tap on the kitchen sink is dripping. Not a lot… but dripping nevertheless. It isn’t, however, a priority. There are far too many other important things going on. The dripping tap is simply a “noise” occurring in the background of a very busy day. You’ll get to it later.

The end of the workday and night time inevitably arrives. The house is silent; the kiddies are in bed as is the dog; the Fire is gone and so too has the Earth and the Wind. It is only in these quietest moments (thank you “Supertramp”… yup!… I’m old!) that you finally notice the dripping faucet. Drip… drip… Drip… DRIP! Argh! It’s enough to drive you insane! You hop out of bed and go down to the kitchen to assess the problem and hopefully fix it.

To your surprise, you discover that a large bowl was left in the sink and the small “drip” you observed during the day has yielded not only a full bowl of water, but that bowl is now overflowing and the sink is starting to fill up! How could so much water be consumed from such a little drip?

Flashback to our imagined workplace… Any guesses yet as to the “activity” I was referring to previously? If you guessed SEARCHING, you would be right! People searching for the things they need to do their job. Searching for equipment. Searching for information. Searching for people. Searching for someone to sign, authorize or approve a document. Searching in the storeroom for supplie or the cabinet for office inventory. Searching for a part. Searching for that file on the shared “F” or “G” drive (Perhaps the “G” stands for “Gee Whiz… I wish I could find that file!” Hmmm… I wonder what the “F” stands for?).

Searching typically doesn’t happen in big chunks. Like our faucet analogy, it is one drip at a time… very innocent… almost an accepted part of the workday. But! If work is truly about creating value, then searching can’t be categorized as work. That leaves one other classification… non-value added, aka WASTE!

How much does searching actually cost an organization, notwithstanding the workplace stress and potential risk of delays which might be real possibility in front-line healthcare delivery, roadside assistance, nuclear, and other similar high-risk environments?

While the math is not perfect, let’s make the following assumptions for your imagined organization;

  • 1,000 employees (or full-time equivalents)

  • 40 hour work week

  • 1.5 hour paid breaks per day

  • 12 paid statutory holidays per year

  • 20 paid vacation days per year

  • $70.00 Fully burdened average hourly rate

Notes for the above: Estimate in Canadian dollars for “average” Canadian company. Fully burdened rate is based on average salary plus employee-born costs for payroll taxes, benefits, etc. which may be as high as $0.25 per $1.00 of wages paid.

With this model in place, what would be your best guess for the total amount of time the average person spends searching for the things they need to do their job? Remember… we are talking about a leaking faucet. Searching rarely happens in a “gush”… it is a drip here, a drip there, spread out over the entire work day. Searching also generates travel and motion as part of the act of searching and this adds to the total time lost.

So… What is your “conservative” guess? Might it be 5 minutes per hour? Could it be as high as 10 minutes? The former translates into 40 minutes per day of lost, non-productive time and the latter, 80 minutes. Let’s meet in the middle. If the average employee in our company of 1,000 people spends an average of 60 minutes per day searching, what is the financial loss associated with that? Are you sitting down?


Your company of 1,000 employees pays people almost $16 MILLION per year to search for the things they need to do their job! I think that amount would even excite Dr. Evil… really!

If we were continuous improvement specialists working in that same company, we would typically be tasked to take on projects that might yield, on average, $500,000 per year of annualized benefits and, if successful, we would most likely celebrate that achievement.

But… what about the dripping faucet? It isn’t as “simple” as one BIG project. To recover some of that loss requires the structured and disciplined deployment of workplace organization and enabling "culture change": 5S (or 6S), visual workplace (aka visual management), and standardization.

This is a $16 million project! It should be owned by one member and one member only of the senior leadership team who will be accountable to senior management (and the Board, if appropriate), for the deployment of that workplace imperative. Others will take on the responsibility of the deployment but as with all important and high-value projects, a sole senior executive sponsor must be held accountable for overall outcome, success or failure.

So, what is your experience with workplace organization? What organizations are you familiar with that have done a great job in deploying and sustaining a 5S/6S program? What failures have you encountered and what, in hindsight, may have been contributing factors to that undesirable outcome? What are your lessons learned and advice you can generously share with our group?

Please share your experiences with us at RPM-Academy… When you share with us, we are learning from the best.

Wishing you all a safe and “dripless” day of high-value activity. Now, where is that darn “save” button on this computer?…

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