Clutter: The Cholesterol of Your Company

We talk about efficiency all the time. It is one of those words that is always brought up in the business discussion, but painfully little is done about it. It is the one element of the business that, if executed, would have a dramatic, positive, and measurable impact on a company’s value proposition.

I read an article recently that stated:

 “…. There are 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in America, or more than 7 square feet for every, man, woman and child in the country. Texas, Florida and California lead the country with the most storage space. It’s now ‘physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – under the total canopy of self-storage roofing,’ boasts the Self Storage Association. There are about 51,000 storage facilities in the country – more than four times the number of McDonald’s ….”

While this article was referring to our personal stuff, these referenced storage units are testimony to the cluttered lives we live. This may explain in the same article why 23 percent of Americans admit to paying bills late because they can’t find them, and why 25 percent of people with two-car garages have to park their cars outside. We have turned into a society of collectors, or perhaps better said, hoarders. We tend not to throw anything out rationalizing that “I may use that someday…”

Here is the problem … we bring this culture of clutter into our businesses every day. Clutter can take many forms in our businesses, but it has one common denominator being >>>> things that are not used.

 20%-30% of work space is taken up by things that are either not used, or rarely used. We think of cholesterol as the measure that indicates the potential for plaque buildup in our arteries. This buildup restricts the flow of blood to the heart, and if left unchecked, often leads to a heart attack. Clutter does the same thing in a business. Clutter restricts the flow of any process in a business leading to poor corporate performance.

 For example, the picture below is an office supply storage area for a company in Massachusetts. Over the years “stuff” just starts to accumulate, and any modicum of an organized system of labeling and placement went by the wayside years ago. Because everyone is too busy to address the clutter issue, this becomes the new normal. The problem is that when you go into the room to look for a particular something, it may take up to 3-5 minutes or more to find .


Looking for “stuff” is a total waste of time and takes away from the efficiency of any process.

Business = Integrated Processes

Pull your mind away from the details of your business for a moment and look at your business as just a family of processes, integrated together to perform a task, a service, or manufacturing a product. Take the emotion out of it and look at these processes for process’s sake. We have many processes in our companies such as:

1)      The quoting process

2)      The scheduling process

3)      The billing process

4)      The material organization process

5)      The project management process

6)      The filing process

7)      The manufacturing process, etc

Each of these processes listed above can be made up of a family of other smaller processes. The bottom line is that efficiency is all about process optimization. If you have efficient processes, your value proposition for your customers will reflect this efficiency in shorter lead times, improved on-time delivery, faster quote turn around, and the like.

The pictures below are from a manufacturing company in Rhode Island that organized their “stuff.”


They discarded all the things they did not use from the manufacturing area and then organized what was left into a well designed format so that what was needed in the process was easily found.

The advantages gleaned from the removal of clutter are profound, and will plant the seed for more robust changes in processes, leading to even greater efficiencies. Clutter removal is very visual, easy to do, and extremely cost effective to implement.

Parting Hint

 De-cluttering, and the reorganization of what remains, needs to be driven by the employees and supported by management. This is a bottom-up process. If employees are empowered, and the results are similar to the pictures above, there is a much greater chance that the changes will be sustainable.

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