Is Everything We Do Value-Added?

The work that professors do is exactly the same as anyone else. It consists of three components:

  • Value-added work
  • Non-value-added but necessary work
  • Waste (activities that add cost but do not add value)

We also have to contend with unevenness and unreasonableness, just as everyone else does. va_slidePeople who do not think of their work in terms of processes believe that all of their work is value-added. Can everything we do be value-added? The answer, of course, is “No.” In formal Lean terms or otherwise, we recognize work that is waste in teaching, research, and service. We have all experienced problems in teaching that has resulted in re-work. We have all done research that went nowhere. And we have all spent time in meetings that were unproductive.

Several times a day, we should ask ourselves the question: “Is what I am doing at this moment value-added, non-value-added but necessary, or waste?” For teaching, we should  ask this question from the students’ and payers’ perspective. For research, we should ask this question from the payers’ perspective (or from their source of funding). And for service we should ask this question from an institutional perspective (or from the perspective of the profession).

Fundamentally, I believe that people want to do a good job and also want to spend their time focused on doing work that other people value. Creating value is challenging and rewarding work. Realizing that much of what we do is waste can be demotivating. Yet, I find that viewing work in the way that is depicted in the image is liberating. In particular, this perspective helps me:

  • Focus on what is truly important
  • Be more productive
  • Make better use of my time

Acknowledging the reality that work is made up of these three components opens the door to new opportunities.

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