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  • Be Careful With The Term “NVA”

  • A senior professional with Lean Management expertise was hired to lead waste elimination initiative in a large service sector organization. Hailing from a matured Lean Manufacturing background, he was confident of applying his strong concepts right from the beginning. He started with a large scale lean workshop which was perceived by him as successful. Here is what happened in his office the following day…

    Scene 1: Lean Expert’s Office
    Situation: The Quality Control Manager has arrived for his appointment with the Lean Expert.

    QC Manager: I understand and appreciate your passion for Lean thinking and do understand that Quality Control is Non Value Adding.
    Lean Expert (Smiles): Yeah, I am happy you got it right.

    QC Manager: People in my office feel that they actually add value and should not be highlighted as non-value-adding folks.
    Lean Expert (Clearing his throat): Well, this is not what I meant. You see – People are not non value adding, their activities are.

    QC Manager: A person is what a person does. If I do non value adding activities, I am a non-value adding person.
    Lean Expert: Well, no. If we all work towards cutting NVA, we shall be better off. So, if the need for QC is reduced, we shall be doing more first time right at the source and have lower costs with higher customer satisfaction.

    QC Manager (Impatiently): Indirectly this means there should be less QC people in the company. And therefore, my department is unwanted.
    Lean Expert (Looks a bit annoyed): Till the time we have a need for QC, we need QC people. First the need for QC needs to be eliminated. If we do not succeed in eliminating the need for QC, QC folks remain the most important people in the process.

    QC Manager (Looks straight into the eyes of Lean Expert): Look, I understand what you said and know it for many years. We do not have a method for eliminating QC and this is also well known in this industry. Your management talk in is a demotivating factor for my department. I feel that you should either come up with a solution or stop labelling activities as NVA. This is not a process problem; it is more of a people issue now. I have been a quality control expert for 20 years and have rarely let a defect pass. When I came to know that many people now are searching for solutions to eliminate QC from the company, I get a feeling that my work and competence is unwanted. There are also murmurs of people seeking jobs elsewhere. I do not seem to have anything positive to say to them. Sorry, I need to leave abruptly as I have to make sure that non value adding work which we used to call inspection needs to be done to ensure that our customer gets the quality he deserves.
    Lean Expert: (Says nothing and stands up to shake hands. Looks shaken.)

    Scene 2: Lean Expert’s Office
    Situation: Learning and Development Head is waiting for the Lean Expert to return after Lunch. Stands up on seeing the expert arrive and shakes his hand enthusiastically.

    L&D Head: Thank you for the enlightening talk the other day. We all had a grand time thinking and talking lean till yesterday when some flow charts arrived.
    Lean Expert (Looks bright and happy): Great! I was expecting this kind of positive response from everyone. (Pauses) And what happened yesterday?

    L&D Head: Yesterday, we saw some flow charts on hiring process. They were showing process training as NVA. I told them straight away that they need to correct those charts. Training is the most value adding activity in this company. I came here to get your stamp of approval. I hope I have done the right thing.
    Lean Expert (Suddenly looks alarmed): Well, let me set this right in the beginning. A non-value-adding activity is not essentially a waste. Some of the NVA’s are essential. Training is an essential NVA. We can call it a Business Value Add. It is not a value adding activity for the external customer as he does not directly pay for it. Training does not transform the product or service that the customer gets from this organization. So it does not fit the VA definition.

  • L&D Head (Looks unhappy): So, it is not purely VA – Value Adding as per your definition.
    Lean Expert: It is not my definition. It is a universal truth. So many organisations have learnt this the hard way. It is better we understand it well and drive it rigorously.

    L&D Head (Suddenly, has an amused look in his eyes): Does it mean your training sessions are also not VA?
    Lean Expert (Without fluttering a lid): Absolutely! What I do is not VA but reduces other NVA by large quantities. Some NVA’s are good because they reduce other NVA’s tremendously.

    L&D Head (Has a mischievous look now): This gives me some satisfaction. We are in the same boat.
    Lean Expert (Shakes his head in frustration): That is not the point. The point is that we need to do less of NVA overall.

    L&D Head: (More mischief in his voice): hmmm. I will think more on this. Right now, my team is waiting to hear from me. And I need to explain some of our discussion to them. Lots of us do NVA work. Thanks for your time.
    Lean Expert: Thanks for bringing this to me. I am planning to have another big session to clear the confusion.

    Scene 3: Lean Expert’s Office
    Situation: The personal secretary comes in with a disturbed look on her face.

    Secretary: Sir, there are many people who want to meet you today. And they all say it is a bit urgent.
    Lean Expert (Looks startled): Who are they?

    Secretary: The Admin Head, HR Head, Maintenance Manager, Customer Care Manager, Purchase Manager, Facilities Manager, Security Head, Staff Transport Manager, well, almost everyone outside operations. And they all seem to be saying terms like VA and NVA.
    Lean Expert (Raises his hand): I am not feeling well. I shall be leaving for the day. I shall meet everyone in the next session on Lean Thinking which we have announced for day after tomorrow.

    In this story, it is evident that our Lean Expert’s session snowballed into a negative emotional social buzz. Our expert could have done well with some preparation and should have been conscious and considerate with his responses.

    Lean requires some preparation

    1. Lean has a fundamental premise of “respect for people”. If people get messages that alienate them from the continuous improvement initiative, something is not just right in the approach.
    2. It is important to highlight that all end to end customer impacting processes have their own share of non-value adding time.
    3. In the war against waste, we need to look for underlying reason for each activity, if the task is essential for internal customers; we may like to name it as Business Value Add (BVA) instead of NVA. The classification or labeling of activities should be seen to have only one objective – To help in identifying improvement areas.
    4. The key stake-holders in the company must be on-board and willing to launch and support Lean initiative before any mass engagement is initiated.
    5. While it is good to get some simple assignments underway to build the culture, key focus areas for the Lean initiative should be identified in alignment with the business strategy.

    Value Adding, Non Value Adding, Lean Management, Lean Management Experts, Quality Control, Learning & Development, Purchasing, Lean

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