Eliminating waste is at the heart of the Lean Business methodology. The goal of Lean is to spend more of your time creating value for customers by reducing or eliminating everything else - the waste. Several common types of waste have been identified and together represent the “7 Wastes of Lean” (sometimes expressed as "8 types of waste, including the additional "waste of human potential" or "waste of talent").
Some types of waste are fairly self-explanatory, but others can be a bit difficult to grasp. Here are some practical examples of each.
This waste is related to the time and materials spent doing something of poor quality and later fixing it or scrapping it. Lean practitioners also count the cost of inspection as part of this waste (although you shouldn't reduce inspection unless you've created perfect quality through mistake proofing techniques). Here are some examples:
- Administering incorrect doses to patients
- Broken parts
- Software bugs
- Incorrect data entry
- Wrong food being delivered to your table in a restaurant
Transportation waste involves moving inventory, people, tools, or other items more often or over farther distances than is necessary. Excessive movement can lead to product damage, unnecessary work, and exhaustion. Examples of transportation waste include:
- Moving hospital patients from department to department
- Sending overstocked inventory back to a warehouse or an outlet store location
- Transportation of products from one functional area to another
- In software, it may mean moving code from one server or repository to another
- Transporting out-of-season produce from halfway around the world to your store instead of eating local
Waiting involves customers, patients, or parts sitting idle. Waiting happens when the person or item is ready for the next step, but the process is not ready to accommodate them. Here are some examples:
- Patients in waiting rooms
- Software sitting in the QA queue
- Waiting for responses from other departments
- Manufacturing processes waiting for component delivery
- Waiting for a flight that's been delayed due to maintenance being done wrong (a defect)
The waste of motion involves unnecessary movement of people or items within a work center. It is often the result of neglecting the 5s’. Here are some examples:
- People searching for materials, tools or equipment
- Handoffs in software development
- Poorly structured or disorganized work spaces
- Unnecessary meetings
- Having to make too many clicks in a website or software to accomplish a small task
- Writing down your name and address and personal information into your doctor's form for the umpteenth time
Producing more of a product than can be consumed at the time creates the waste of overproduction. Making too much of something (or making it too early) creates other types of waste. Overproduction is of particular concern because it tends to exacerbate the wastes of transportation, inventory and motion. Examples include:
- Production of components before the next stage in the process is ready to receive them
- Printing and filing of unnecessary documents
- Creation of meals that are not eaten or partially eaten
- Cars that sit unsold in a car dealer lot
- Hollywood making a movie that virtually nobody goes to see
Over processing simply means doing work that does not add value to the customer. Over processing is resolved with simplification. Sometimes, in Lean, we can stop doing some things instead of figuring out how to do them better.
- Entering the same data in more than one place on a form or in a software application
- Multiple approval levels for a small spending request
- Ordering unnecessary tests for patients
- Extra report information
- Cutting the crusts off of your kids' sandwiches when they're fine eating the crust now
The waste of inventory involves storing products or materials that are not needed at this time. Excess inventory results in a waste of space, and it wastes the cost associated with the physical inventory. Although it is a significant concern in manufacturing, it occurs in other sectors as well.
- Excess production of promotional materials or printed forms
- Cabinets full of office supplies
- Produce or food that goes to waste in our kitchen
- Kitchen gadgets that are accumulated and not used
- Unused or rarely used equipment
- Data entry piling up
For a long time, discussion centered around only the prior seven wastes of Lean, but more recently, the waste of human potential has joined their ranks and with good reason. It is probably the most common and most damaging type of waste that organizations encounter. You see it when:
- Employees spend time on tasks that do not add value
- Career development and planning is absent
- People with advanced skills do routine work
- Employee ideas for improvement are ignored
We’d like to challenge you to find specific examples of each of the 8 wastes of Lean within your organization. Some may be glaringly obvious, while others are more subtle and harder to find. When you identify waste, you also uncover opportunities for improvement and move closer to becoming a more efficient and cost effective organization.
Applying Technology to the Waste Reduction Challenge
Continuous improvement software can give a big boost to organizations that are serious about finding and eliminating waste in all of its forms. Here’s how it helps:
Capture Opportunities for Improvement
The first step in eliminating waste is identifying it. Continuous improvement software makes it easy for everyone who spots an opportunity for improvement to document and capture it. All of these opportunities reside in one central system, giving managers an easy way to prioritize them for action. The best solutions are user-friendly and available on mobile devices so that people can capture them without interrupting their regular workflow.
Enable Cross-Functional Collaboration
Many organizations find that most waste occurs at the points in a process where different functions intersect. Breakdowns that result in waiting, wasted motion, and unnecessary movement are common when handoffs occur. That’s why getting all departments on one system to manage improvement is so necessary. When everyone is on a single platform, communication flows smoothly and improvement gains momentum. Everyone speaks the same improvement language and follows a standard procedure for planning, implementing, and evaluating their improvements.
Ensure Forward Progress
We’ve talked to a few leaders who insist that spreadsheets are sufficient for managing efforts to attack the 8 wastes of lean, but none who can show significant results from this approach. The problem is that spreadsheets are passive. They require someone to think to access them and take action. Improvement software, on the other hand, is equipped with alerts and notifications that pull people back to the task at hand. It also ensures that managers have visibility into the progress of each project and can remove roadblocks should they occur.
Organizations don’t decide to take on the 8 wastes of Lean just because they are there. They do it to achieve specific results. Without a software solution in place, however, it can be difficult to measure and report on the impact of waste elimination. The best solutions make it easy for leaders to calculate how improvement has reduced costs, speed time to market, impacted customer satisfaction, and improved profitability.
There’s no magic wand for eliminating the 8 wastes of Lean. It takes hard work and commitment. Software doesn’t make it automatic, but it does make it easier. If flawless processes and perfect customer value are the goals, then an investment in improvement technology is the right call.