Recognizing Waste – Pattern Recognition and Outliers

The patterns of the game govern.

The patterns of the game govern.

  • Kanban’s primary weapon: visualization
  • Kanban’s primary tool: limiting WIP
  • Kanban’s primary goal: reducing waste
  • By visualizing our workload, we limit work-in-progress and focus our resources.  We reduce waste by having a more efficient and effective work experience through understanding and prioritizing our work better, and selecting tasks better.

    Personal kanban is like the ancient Chinese board game Go. Often caveated with, “a few minutes to learn, and a lifetime to master,”  Go Masters will tell you they are constantly uncovering strategies and finding new ways of interpreting the patterns on the board. Similarly, while it is simple to track your work and limit what you’re doing at any given point-in-time in personal kanban, the implications of tasks and workflow run deep.

    One of those implications is waste reduction via pattern recognition, or outlier identification.

    Pattern recognition: What tasks or types of tasks repeatedly create waste?

    Outlier identification: That weird task took a long time to perform and produced little value. Why?

    The human brain is wired for both of these tasks, and the kanban highlights them. Outlier identification is a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other exercise. Outliers are tasks that you either can’t seem to get off your board, or ones you become upset by when you move them into “doing” or “done.” My choice of the word “upset” is purposeful here. Your work should not upset you, and your visceral response to a task is a valid indicator of whether or not that task is waste. We’ll revisit this issue in an upcoming post.

    Pattern recognition is a little trickier, and should not be confused with “pattern matching.” Pattern matching is the act of noticing objects or events that conform to a rigidly defined pattern. Leaves turning brown in autumn is a normal and predictable pattern.  If trees begin to lose their leaves in June, you recognize that something is askew simply because the pattern matching is wrong.

    You can then walk amongst the trees and start a process of pattern recognition. You are looking for a pattern that wasn’t there before or that exists in relation to the healthy trees.  Upon first glance, you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. The trees have been there for years; there’s no sign of infestation, what could it be?

    Then you notice that tree with brown foliage in a corner of the yard, and then other brown-leaved trees, more-or-less in succession.  You recognize the first pattern.  You aren’t an arborist, you don’t know what it might be but still you recognized a pattern that will help you articulate the problem.

    Personal work is always going to give us epiphanies. It’s going to take a while to notice the patterns and even more time to then understand what to do with them.  Outliers can be identified and dealt with, patterns often need to be adapted to.
    When we run our work history through some rudimentary filters, we begin to discern patterns such as what actions or what tasks lead us to the greatest success? Sure we may notice patterns and not fully grasp what they mean, but if we are cognizant of those patterns over time, at some point we may see correlations and eventually be able to identify true causalities.

    Later on in this series we’ll discuss actual measurement tools that can illuminate where waste resides. Tomorrow, we’ll address waste discovery and mitigation.