Why Is This Here?

Two essential principles to help you establish “lean” in your operations.


Why is this here? Will I use it this minute? Will I use it this hour? Will I use it this shift? Will I use it today? Why is this here?

These questions are one of two essential principles to help you establish “Lean” in your operations. It is a principle that will work regardless of whether your shop is low-variety, high-volume (LVHV—like Toyota Lean) or high-variety, low-volume (HVLV—like most job shops).

The other principle, “Relentlessly eliminate waste,” is the better-known principle. It tells you what needs to be done. But asking “Why is this here?” shows you how to eliminate waste. It is the essential question to ask when removing clutter from workspaces, thereby reducing potential variability and restoring your operations to the essentials needed for control and visual management.

Why is this here? This question used to be the province of the industrial engineer. A company’s industrial engineers would plan the setup of an operation, calculate standard work and determine the best layout for production. I have not seen an IE in any contract shop, nor in the plants of our OEM customers in many, many years.

In order to get “lean and mean” or “right sized,” most executive managers eliminated such non-essential luxury positions as industrial engineers. So facilities became bloated with substandard layouts. And by not having standard work, more and more extra “stuff” was brought into the production environment. With foremen, crew or team leaders all overburdened by keeping our shops on schedule, the idea of keeping work areas optimized for production has taken a back seat to the urgencies of the moment.

Why is this here? Will I use it this minute? These are the questions to ask when you look at a production workspace. (Creative workspaces are different.) The most expensive real estate is the limited square footage at the workstation where the employee and process interface. Any material, equipment or other tangibles that are not needed to accomplish the task are obstacles and create a sub-optimum environment for accomplishing the work at that time and place.

Why is this here? Will I use it this hour? Will I use it this shift? Tools, gages and equipment that are used regularly but not as a part of every operator task should be near at hand, but not jammed into an area where they are in the way. A visually marked place to hold the tool will help ensure that it gets returned once it has completed its task.

Why is this here? Will I use it today? If the resource is only used once a day, that’s a likely signal that it might be shared and used by others. So, finding the best place for it (rather than leaving it where it happened to be used last) will optimize for the entire organization. The time spent by others searching for a shared resource is an unrecoverable loss to the company.

Why is this here? If the answer is anything other than “because it is needed to help perform the job at hand better, safer or with better quality,” then the item should be removed.