Eliminating Waste using Zombie War Analysis

If quality and continuous improvement are important to you, you should have a fundamental understanding of zombies and the role they play in quality management. Furthermore, understanding zombies might help you understand yourself better too. In fact, performing a zombie war analysis (on either yourself or your organization) could be the next great lean tool for identifying and eliminating waste from processes.

Huh??!?! Zombies… are you sure? Yeah, I’m sure. And no, I didn’t know much about zombies either until yesterday, when I read My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead in the New York Times by Chuck Klosterman. (The savvy zombie thumbnail at the left by AMC is from his article.) In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a zombie movie before. That might change, though, now that I see the zombie concept has a direct bearing on understanding modern work life.

Here’s why: battling the endless barrage of emails, texts, requests for your time, and sorting through the steady stream of social media chatter is like a zombie apocalypse. They just keep coming and coming, and you just keep fighting and trying to let it all not overtake you and drive you nuts. And the whole thing might never end:

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principle downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principle downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do…

This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

Battling zombies is like battling anything … or everything.

The only way to WIN the war is to reduce the number of zombies that you have to deal with. So, my appeal to quality managers everywhere: Ask your people what processes feel like zombie wars, and brainstorm ways to reduce the number of zombies so you don’t have to shoot so much. By tapping into the highly sensitive emotional wisdom of everyone who has to work with or deal with a process, you can call out the zombies and start eliminating them.

My appeal to PEOPLE everywhere: ask yourself what aspects of your life feel like a zombie war, and brainstorm ways to reduce the number of zombies. You’ll eliminate waste from the processes that the zombies are appearing in, while saving on ammunition, reducing stress, and possibly even increasing the joy in your life.

The simple act of thinking about the “things you’ve got to deal with” in terms of which ones are zombies (and which ones are not) might be just the innovative boost you need to identify and eliminate critical packets of waste floating around your organization. Or your life.