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Do You Waste Time Walking To The Printer?

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Do You Waste Time Walking To The Printer?

Do You Waste Time Walking To The Printer?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Are you one of those people who pours the cream into the mug before the coffee so you won't have to stir it? Or maybe you alphabetize your spice rack so you can find the nutmeg easily. Well, if so, here's a job you might be good at: efficiency expert.

Our Planet Money team has been talking to people with jobs that offer unique perspectives on the economy. David Kestenbaum talked to an efficiency specialist who sees imperfection everywhere he looks.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Matt LeBlanc works for a global shipping company, but he's kind of a special ops guy. His company will drop him into one their locations. A typical mission: Find a way to save us a half million dollars. You've got four weeks. Recently he got sent to Mexico. The company's MP3-player delivery operation - that could be more efficient.

Mr. MATT LEBLANC (Efficiency Expert): So, you know, I'm standing in the warehouse and I have to spend a lot of time just standing in warehouses looking weird, staring at people moving boxes. And I see the truck back up, and they open the door, and they have to take all these boxes out, and then they move them, pick them up and they put the box in one part.

KESTENBAUM: So Matt times everything, makes some diagrams, plugs some numbers into equations and he finds a much quicker way to do things. The workers, it turns out, are moving the boxes way more than they need to. Matt finds a way to cut the labor in half - in half.

Now, in a perfect economy, Matt's job should not exist. Companies would've figured out the best way to do things. Competition should force that to happen. But Matt LeBlanc says there's actually a lot of slack out there.

Mr. LEBLANC: We actually call it waste. There are eight types of waste that we talk about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEBLANC: The acronym is Tim T. Wood. It's transportation, inventory, motion, talent, waiting, over production, over processing and defects.

KESTENBAUM: Sometimes the fixes he suggests are pretty simple.

Mr. LEBLANC: We also move a lot of printers. Like, if you, I mean, I'm sure you guys have printers in your office, right?


Mr. LEBLANC: Have you ever thought about why that printer is there and if it makes sense for it to be there?

KESTENBAUM: Over the course of a career, you might walk miles back and forth -in your office.

Mr. LEBLANC: This is the stuff that I have to think about. I have to just go, listen, I can save you almost 2,000 hours' worth of labor hours. If you take that printer from where it is over there and move it across the, you know, the room, you will save that many hours. And people never believe me, but you can show it with all sorts of different calculations.

KESTENBAUM: Why is it that we don't naturally do things more efficiently?

Mr. LEBLANC: Oh, that's - if I could answer that question, I'd be making a lot more money.

KESTENBAUM: People like Matt are one reason why things like MP3 players can keep getting cheaper. Of course, cutting waste can mean cutting jobs. And not surprisingly, employees don't always like when Matt shows up. They don't like being timed. They don't like change. Matt says early in his career, an employee got really angry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEBLANC: Really bad. Yeah. I've been physically threatened in a meeting once by someone because I moved their desk from one side of the room to the other. The sad thing is is that I empathized with the guy. I'm, like, imagine if someone came in - and I look like the Gerber baby, like, imagine if the Gerber baby came in and told you to move your desk. And, you know, who didn't really explain it to you well enough or didn't sell it to you well enough and just made you do it.

KESTENBAUM: How did he physically threaten you?

Mr. LEBLANC: He came after me and his fellow employees had to stop him from killing me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KESTENBAUM: Matt's job isn't all conflict. Another thing he doesn't like to see wasted is talent. He once found a low-level employee who had memorized bar codes for cat food and dog food, who really knew the business. Matt recommended him for a promotion. The hard thing for Matt about being trained to look at the world this way is that it can be hard to switch it off.

Mr. LEBLANC: I got to tell you, buddy, I have - there's this thing called Five-S. It's called: sort, straighten, sanitize, standardize and sustain. I Five-S my toiletries in the morning. I have all...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEBLANC: It's so bad. I have my - all of my toiletries are lined up in the order that I use them. If I can, you know, get that out of the way and I can do it in the most efficient way possible, I can get to the fun stuff more quickly. I can get to the, you know, drinking coffee, talking with my friends.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, but then you got to make the coffee in the most efficient way. You got to have the conversation in the most efficient way.

Mr. LEBLANC: Ugh, yeah.

KESTENBAUM: You said it's important to turn it off. How do you turn it off?

Mr. LEBLANC: Music, you know, hanging out with friends, heavy drinking.

KESTENBAUM: So if you want to be an efficiency expert: Beware. Once you learn to see things this way, once someone hands you those efficiency eyeglasses, our world, our economy looks surprisingly messy.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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