Why IKEA makes me question LEAN

We happen to live in a mid century styled house, and IKEA’s style often fits quite well into that design. While we own many vintage pieces, there’s something to be said for rounding out the collection with some newer stuff that can be bought cost effectively. IKEA is an interesting business in that they figured out that shipping air was wasteful. By flat packing their items and having customers assemble it themselves, everyone wins.

Now, if you’ve ever assembled your own furniture, you know it can be quite a project depending on what it is. IKEA uses all kinds of interesting fasteners, all designed such that you ought to be able to assemble it with a manual screwdriver, an included allen wrench and perhaps a small hammer. The thing is, I own a battery powered drill, and I use that (with interchangeable bits) in place of the Allen wrench and screwdriver. In theory, if I eliminated all the waste from the assembly process (say everything was packed such that the pieces came out in the exact order needed), that there wouldn’t be much advantage from using power tools. That is, when I was first taught about LEAN, we were warned against optimizing the value added parts of the process and to focus on eliminating the non value add.

So, if you buy from IKEA, then assembling it yourself is part of the value add. You specifically bought the product for this reason, to trade your time for less money. Therefore, optimizing it shouldn’t make much sense, and yet, using a power tool to do the value added work drastically cuts down on the time to assemble a piece.

In fact, power tools make many value added tasks much better (or even possible at all). And so it confuses me, if you are doing a value added task manually, why you wouldn’t focus on doing it as fast or efficiently as possible. Perhaps it’s just a miscommunication from the teachers to the students, and it is certainly true that there is many a wasteful step in many processes, but it strikes me that if technology can make a value added process better, than why would you not do that right now as well as eliminate waste?

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