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Had Enough of W.F.H.

6 October 2020

I read this blog post by Paul Gilbert over the weekend and it really resonated with me.  Your best bet is to read the post yourself, but to crudely summarise, he talks of how ‘liminal spaces’ between meetings or appointments are where we process our ideas, come to terms with what we have learned and make sense of things and that, in COVID 19 times, working from home has eradicated such ‘liminality’ (is that a word? not sure, but I like it).  Google tells me that:

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” The liminal space is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space.

I have so few of these now W.F.H.  Nothing feels like a crossing over space, everything just feels the same, all day, every day.  As a wise tweet from someone said “I’m no longer ‘working from home’ I’m ‘living at work’”.  If everyone that I’m interacting with at work is working in this way, feeling this way, then yes, I suppose it is no surprise that responses to emails aren’t quite as helpful as they might once have been or indeed as jolly.  So yeah, the Covid bleaktimes continue!  

I’m juggling too many things as well.  

In a factory we want to be able to create different products to meet customer demand, but the temptation is always to produce big runs of each type of product to maximise economies of scale.  Trouble with economies of scale is that it can be dissociated from true demand and runs the risk of leaving you with too much inventory. (Not true if you manufacture face masks or hand sanitizer right now of course … but anyway). What’s more optimal is to encourage ‘little and often’ production of a variety of products, and to encourage this, whilst not losing too much production time, we should seek to reduce the time it takes to change the line to be able to make a different type of product.  So to summarise, if we reduce the changeover time between making different products, it will enable and encourage more changeovers to take place as the amount of ‘lost production time’ will be reduced and so the factory should be more inclined to alternate production.  

One of the key tools to achieve this in lean is Shingo’s SMED process where SMED stands for Single Minute Exchange of Die. Single minute referring to the idea that the changeover time is reduced to single digits i.e. under 10 minutes.  So, in order to facilitate more changeovers on the production line, you need to reduce the changeover time via moving elements of the changeover to occur whilst production is happening. You can also design the machines themselves to facilitate swift changeover etc. The most obvious example of successful changeover reduction are pitstops in Formula 1.  Think about all of the efforts that occur to make those tyre changes (and other things that I have zero interest in) happen in just a few seconds (massive pit team, design of the car to enable quick removal and assembly, multiple practice runs etc.). In production, reducing the changeover time should enable more frequent changeovers which helps to maximise the capacity of production at the same time as encouraging the making of different types of products. 

When trying to adapt manufacturing lean to service lean, we’d talk about how in professional services, the machines in the production line are human beings – our brains. Rather than have to re-orientate the line to make something different, we need to shift our heads into the next project. This is what I’m finding it hard at the moment, switching from one project to another, trying to get my head into gear towards the task at hand and I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m tired and depressed, or yes, whether that’s because I’m simply missing these liminal spaces? That our creative juices blankly refuse to respond to any notion of mental SMED, that we need a good amount of transition time between tasks?

I have to do something about this because it’s unlike me to feel this way. I’m going to try to organize each working day a bit better I think, block booking time out to focus on each project for a considerable amount of time and trying to plan in some breaks, some strategic liminal spaces, to help me shift from one type of task to another.  So in a way, I need to resist mental SMED, perhaps another example of how there can sometimes be ‘too much lean’.

Another thing that I will try to seek out is some online courses. We put on lots of great programmes for other people and the regular feedback is that they provide the opportunity for teams to come together, to take a step back, and think. Maybe that’s what I need?

Ah Covid-19.  I hate you so. 


  1. Barry Evans

    Sarah – great comments and my solutions to exactly the same issues.
    – give yourself a break – walk away from the desk/laptop/diary – work stuff. Make a coffee and take it into the garden. Weed etc etc for 15 minutes then do back to “work”
    – go out for a walk
    – go to the pub (if you can). I am on my own now, so enjoy meeting up with friends at the local pub in the evening to talk, argue football or whatever
    – visit my daughter and enjoy my grandchildren
    – cook – I love it
    – HERESY – lean is for repetitive, work-related time. Dont use it in non-work time. I can batch cook, automate home tasks etc. I don’t! Clearly I don’t have the issue of childcare etc. I realise that adds another dimension.
    – I suppose the key point is you have to plan for a solution, it wont just happen.

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