What Is Water Spider in Lean? Definition, Role and Skills

Iva Krasteva

Iva Krasteva

Content Creator Expert | Agile Practitioner | Kanban Certified

Table of Contents:

What Is a Water Spider?

Water spider is a Lean manufacturing concept that refers to a person who is responsible for keeping the workflow uninterrupted, which contributes to faster market delivery. The function aims to decrease all variation in production and bring concentration to meaningful work and productivity. The role of the water spider is to keep people's focus on value-adding activities, help to avoid distractions and facilitate the flow of work.

Essential Duties of Water Spiders

To achieve their goals, the water spider's main responsibilities may include

  • Supplying Resources: One of the primary duties of a water spider is to ensure that all workstations are fully stocked with the necessary resources. This includes the transportation and replacement of goods as needed.
  • Waste Removal: Beyond merely supplying materials, water spiders are responsible for removing waste from the work area, ensuring a clean and efficient workspace.
  • Kanban Management: Moving and updating kanban cards is a critical task for water spiders, as it helps maintain a visual management system that supports the efficient flow of work through various stages.
  • Supporting Team Members: Assisting less-experienced workers is a key responsibility, as it ensures the entire team can perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.

To truly excel in their role, water spiders must perform a clear and standardized set of tasks. This standardization is the cornerstone of efficient water-spidering, as it ensures that every action taken is in service of optimizing the workflow. The lack of such processes can lead to performance challenges, underscoring the importance of a well-defined and consistently applied approach to the water spider function.

What Is the Significance of Water-Spidering in Lean?

Lean is a methodology focused on nurturing continuous improvement and reducing waste in a work process. The foundational goal of Lean is to eliminate waste from the work process. It employs a set of tools and techniques for identifying and eliminating it. Among the most prominent ones include 5S, Kaizen, JIT (Just-In-Time), Kanban, PDCA, and many more. The Lean methodology is built upon two major pillars - respect for people and continuous improvement.

lean management principles

The key role of the water spider on the production floor stems from the goals of a Lean process - to continuously improve efficiency by removing wasteful practices from business processes. With the capability to see and neutralize inefficiencies on the spot, water spiders can have a significant influence and opportunity to spread the Lean principles at the heart of the work process - among line operators. In addition, water spiders can identify impediments in the process that compromise the stability of the workflow and raise an immediate alarm by either taking corrective measures on the go or relaying the feedback to upper management.

What Is a Mizusumashi?

Mizusumashi is the Japanese name of the whirligig beetle, also known as a diving bell spider or water strider. It is a species that swims on the water's surface and can stay underwater for as long as necessary, thanks to an air bubble under its hardened forewing and its divided eyes, which enable it to see both below and above water. Then, it emerges on the surface to replenish its oxygen supply. The Japanese word - mizusumashi - means "make water cleaner" which is related to the insect's habitat - clean and fresh waters.

The significance of the water spider stems from its existence both on the surface and underwater, its ability to see above and below water, and the purpose of its surfacing - oxygen replenishment. These translate into Lean manufacturing in the role of the water spider function and its in-depth understanding of the process and working within the process. Another key contribution is replenishing goods and supplies to facilitate the flow of work.

What Inspired the Term Water-Spidering?

As discussed, the features of the whirligig beetle are translated into Lean production through the role of the water spider. The water spider's role should incorporate the ability to understand all internal processes and be aware and adaptable to external factors. There should be an underlined standardization and rhythm in their work. They should be discrete and maintain clear workstations deprived of as much waste as possible.

What Is the Role of a Water Spider in Lean?

The role of the water spider in Lean manufacturing is to be present on the production floor at all times. They monitor stock supplies around workstations, replenish where necessary, communicate shortages to management, and overall support the optimization of the work system. In addition, in the efforts to reduce variability in the production process, water spiders help remove waste from the operations, shorten process lead time, and improve process efficiency - the ultimate goal of Lean management.

Top 3 Reasons Why Water Spiders Are Important

1. The Role of Water Spiders in Enhancing Operational Efficiency

Water spiders play a crucial role in maintaining the seamless and uninterrupted flow of operations. Their involvement, especially during out-of-cycle events, is critical in preventing disruptions in the work process. This timely intervention not only helps stabilize operations but also contributes to the continuous long-term improvement of workflows. By designing optimal routes on the production floor for material delivery, water spiders ensure that the process remains efficient and effective.

2. Reducing Physical Exertion and Boosting Productivity

The water spider function is instrumental in minimizing unnecessary physical movement within the workplace. By eliminating repetitive tasks such as stock replenishment, workers can concentrate more on their current tasks, minimizing distractions. This focused approach leads to a significant increase in productivity. Repetitive and unnecessary movements often divert attention from activities that add value. The role of the water spider is to refocus efforts on essential work, thereby enhancing overall productivity.

3. Improving Quality and Increasing Team Engagement

Water spiders significantly impact the quality of operations and foster greater team engagement. They play a vital role in reducing interruptions that could potentially distract team members, thereby enhancing the quality of the product and increasing the team's attention to detail. Through their actions, water spiders improve the work process's overall involvement, leading to better outcomes and a more engaged team.

What Is the Goal of Lean Water Spiders?

The purpose of water spiders in Lean production is to boost productivity and process efficiency. By standardizing their tasks, water spiders can grasp the work area in its entirety and create a plan for the most efficient delivery of resources to the workstations, so there's no waste or variation in the production. They can also be the liaison between line operators and higher management by offering key insights in both directions.

What Is Standardization for Water Spiders?

Standardization in the role of water spiders refers to working while following a clear set of instructions and work descriptions. The goal of the standardization in the function is to optimize the flow of the water spider's workday. The importance of an established order of tasks should not be overlooked as it can contribute to creating process inefficiencies.

For instance, well-timed rounds of the workstations can help identify items that are running low and need refilling. Therefore, performing these rhythmic cycles decreases variability and can impact reducing wasteful activities from the production line.

What Are the Skills of the Water Spider?

  • Excellent Communication Skills: On one hand, this is the person on the floor who has direct access to the production process and line workers. They must understand their needs and draw conclusions about the process's inefficiencies. These insights are then communicated to upper management, who will provide a key liaison for feedback in both directions. Thanks to the good communication skills of water spiders, management is brought closer to the work process and the workers themselves.
  • Knowledge and Experience: They will be servicing multiple workstations or even work areas, which implies the need for a deep understanding of the entire work process at a given workstation. The flow of work reflects the water spider's familiarity and involvement with the specifics of the work process. Water spiders should also identify emerging challenges, such as blockages or wastes in the process. 
  • Proactive Problem-Solving: It is crucial to quickly identify and act upon inefficiencies. Water spiders must be vigilant and responsive to any signs of process breakdown, ensuring the workflow remains uninterrupted.
  • Punctuality and Time Management Skills: Time management skills are critical to the optimal performance of the water spider function. The role is highly dependent on time; the water spider is tasked to make rounds around the workstations and identify any shortages, replenishment needs, etc. To be efficient in this position, one must keep a steady work pace.

How Does Water-Spidering Benefit a Process?

The benefits of the water spider function that help create a true Lean process are related to reducing waste and variability. In addition, the role's features, such as standardization, can help optimize the production flow. Here's how the water-spidering can benefit any given process.

  • Standardizes the delivery of goods to the workstations.
  • Reduces wasted time spent by floor workers.
  • Helps to reduce lead time and variability.
  • Brings the focus to value-adding activities.
  • Streamlines the production flow.
  • Supports the optimization of complex processes.
  • Improves communication between line workers and management.

What Are the Downsides of Water Spiders?

Overlooking the role of water spiders or overburdening them can bring production inefficiencies to the work process. A few of the potential drawbacks to the water spider role are listed below.

  • Water spiders can cause production inefficiencies if making empty work area rounds.
  • Adding miscellaneous tasks to water spiders' list can affect their productivity.
  • Assigning multiple areas to maintain can cause underperforming.
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Iva Krasteva

Iva Krasteva

Content Creator Expert | Agile Practitioner | Kanban Certified

With a background in Intellectual Property, SEO, content writing, and training in Lean, Agile, and Kanban, Iva is an enthusiastic Agile practitioner who embraces collaboration and flexibility every step of the way. Driven by constant learning and knowledge and fascinated by people's creativity.