Waste and Contributors to Waste

We should constantly strive to provide exactly what the customer wants when working on process improvement.  One way to do so is to identify activities that are wasteful and then work to reduce or eliminate those activities.  Waste is defined as an activity that consumes resources but does not add any value for the customer.   The fact that someone is busy performing an activity does not mean that the activity is valuable.  One way to think about waste is to ask whether or not the customer is willing to pay more for the product or service if the activity is included.

The Toyota Production System defines seven types of waste and three contributors to waste.  The more we understand about waste and the more waste that we identify in a process, the more we will recognize opportunities for improvement.  Here are the seven types of waste with examples of each.

  1. Overproduction – performing an activity too soon, or too often.
    • Manufacturing Example – making products before they are needed, or without a customer order.
    • Business Process Example – generating multiple copies of reports, some of which are never used.
  2. Waiting – a person or machine waiting for something to happen.
    • Manufacturing Example – a department waits for parts from an upstream department because their operations are not synchronized.
    • Business Process Example – a person waits for information from another department.
  3. Transportation – the movement of things in excess of the minimum distance required.
    • Manufacturing Example – parts are sourced overseas and are transported thousands of miles.
    • Business Process Example – movement of paper forms from one department or location to another.
  4. Overprocessing – expending more effort than what is needed to complete the activity.
    • Manufacturing Example – chemicals are mixed for eight hours when one hour is sufficient.
    • Business Process Example – redundant layers of approval, unnecessary meetings.
  5. Inventory – an excess of material on hand beyond what is needed to support the process.
    • Manufacturing Example – too much raw material was ordered and the excess sits in inventory.
    • Business Process Example – excessive amounts of office supplies are ordered and sit unused for long periods of time.
  6. Motion – the movement of people in excess of what is needed to complete the activity.
    • Manufacturing Example – people walk excessive distances due to improper location of their materials and tools.
    • Business Process Example – looking for someone in an office, travel to a meeting at a remote location.
  7. Correction – fixing things that were not done correctly the first time.
    • Manufacturing Example – parts are made incorrectly and must either be repaired or scrapped.
    • Business Process Example – fixing data entry errors, responding to customer complaints.

Here are the three contributors to waste.

  1. Unevenness or inconsistency – unevenness in the amount of work being done.
  2. Overburden or unreasonableness – problems that occur when a person or a machine is pushed beyond limits that are safe and comfortable.
  3. Current methods and processes – the use of methods or processes without ongoing improvement, simply because they exist.

Once you have identified waste, you need to know what actions to take to reduce or eliminate it.  We will discuss how the various tools and techniques of lean are used to eliminate waste in future articles.

Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at roger@keyperformance.com.

About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 48 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to www.keyperformance.com.