During my recent travels, I came upon a somewhat bizarre sight. There was a paper towel dispenser mounted on a stairwell wall!?!

Actually, there were at least two in the stairwell.

Being a (hopefully) typically curious lean thinker, I had to ask one of the managers within the office complex about the origin and purpose of the dispensers.

It seems that some time ago, a manager, who is no longer with the company, had them installed. The said manager would regularly ascend and descend the stairs while holding a cup of coffee.

Actually, the stairwell is next to the complex’ basement level cafeteria, so I’m guessing we’re talking mostly about ascending… with a full cup.

In any event, occasionally, the manager would spill his coffee in the stairwell. Not a safe or clean situation.

A spill in the stairwell requires a means to clean up the stairwell. It’s easier to take care of a spill with a paper towel. So, obviously, we need some point of use paper towels. Right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking a coffee cup lid might have been a more effective countermeasure.

Why not keep the coffee from spilling in the first place?

One lesson. Lean thinkers should, by habit, look upstream of the value stream (in this case the procuring, transporting, and drinking coffee value stream) when assessing improvement opportunities. It’s generally more effective to address problems/potential problems before they happen than after. Or at least when the problems are smaller, easier, and cheaper to deal with.

As for the point of use paper towel dispensers, curiously, there were no point of use trash cans. Nothing like carrying your hot, wet paper towels with you and your partially filled coffee cup up the stairwell…

But, I’m guessing the dispensers get very little use, anyway. Most folks use lids.

Related posts: Lean Space – Some Thoughts and 10 Questions, Point of Use Storage – Sometimes It’s REALLY Important!