Understanding Value and the 8 Wastes of Lean

Overview of the 7 Wastes of Lean

Understanding the concept of “waste” and the eight wastes of lean begins with distinguishing a difference between what creates “value” and what is unnecessary waste.

Defining Value and Waste

Value, or a “value-adding activity” is anything that transforms material into something the customer actually wants and is willing to pay for.

For example, a customer will gladly pay for a stamping press to form a metal part, or a carpenter to cut wood to size.

But a customer does not want to pay for walking to pick up a tool or part, or delays caused by waiting on a fork truck or a broken machine. These wasteful examples generate no value!

Value Added vs. Non Value Added
The green box above is an example of a value-adding activity: properly hammering a nail! Everything else in the above image is wasteful. A customer-valued transformation is not taking place.

So a value-adding activity transforms material into something closer to what the customer wants. A wasteful activity (or “non-value-adding activity”) does not. No transformation takes place!

Time Lapse: Visualizing Value and Waste

See how this time lapse video highlights waste and value in an assembly operation.

Connecting Waste to Muda, Muri, and Mura

While focusing on eliminating waste is important and also popular in lean circles, eliminating the 7 wastes of lean is actually only one part of the picture!

The more complete picture paints the problem of three evils that must be dealt with to handle resources efficiently and effectively.

Three Japanese words describe these evils:

  1. Muda represents wastefulness and is where we get the 7 wastes of lean. Muda occurs whenever resources are consumed without creating value for the customer.
  2. Mura represents unevenness and has to do with variation within the production system. Wherever you witness a buildup of inventory (e.g. overproduction) you are seeing mura. It is present whenever a schedule fluctuates or when an individual operator is made to “hurry up and wait” when working a job.
  3. Muri represents over burden. It will strain machines and people and work them excessively.

The Classic 7 Wastes of Lean

Originally, there were seven categories of waste, defined below.

TransportationTransportation of materials and information by itself does not transform them into what the customer wants. So the movement of stuff is wasteful even if it is sometimes required.
InventoryInventory in the form of finished product or work in process (WIP) is wasteful and introduces delays in a process. It also increases the amount of space required to store it, and if there is a defect found it may be multiplied and discovered in all inventory on-hand.
MotionMotion refers to human movement, which by itself is wasteful. A poorly arranged and disorganized workplace can contribute to increased motion.
WaitingThe time that information and materials spend waiting for the next step of the process to begin is wasteful.
Over ProcessingThis the correcting of defects and also any time when more effort or energy is put into creating value than necessary (e.g. over processing is common in painting, grinding, sanding, gluing, etc.)
Over ProductionProducing more than is required, or producing something sooner than it is required is waste: the customer downstream doesn’t want it or isn’t ready for it. Over production is often regarded as the worst of all wastes because it tends to multiply other wastes when it occurs.
DefectsDefects in materials or information are clearly undesirable and a waste!
(Skills)(This 8th waste was added later to represent under-utilization of people’s creativity and potential.)

The 8th and Greatest Waste of All

Toyota identified seven original wastes in the 1900s. It wasn’t until later that westerners added an 8th waste.

The 8th waste goes by various names. Some call it “skills” and add it onto the popular acronym TIMWOODS. Others call it “non-utilized talent,” or “creativity,” or even “genius.”

Regardless of the name, the meaning is the same: the failure to fully use and develop people’s capabilities.

The waste of life itself

While the 8th waste was not formally taught during the original development of the Toyota Production System, it is clear that a value for people and for developing their full potential was present from the beginning.

There is a fascinating quote from one of Toyota’s founders Eiji Toyoda.

“Employees are offering a very important part of their life to us. If we don’t use their time effectively, we are wasting their lives.”

Eiji Toyoda

Consequentially, we regard the 8th waste of Lean as the greatest waste of all! Because what greater waste is there than the waste of life itself?

Targeting Kaizen to Eliminate Waste

Sometimes it is difficult to connect the eight wastes with tangible strategic goals.

For example, setting out to just “eliminate waste” may sound like a good idea, but the goal can quickly become vague and poorly defined.

Instead, we recommend considering these more-tangible goals below, first detailed by Masaaki Imai in Gemba Kaizen, and taught in our course Kaizen Best Practices.

  1. Improve Quality
  2. Improve productivity
  3. Reduce inventory
  4. Shorten the production line
  5. Reduce downtime
  6. Reduce space
  7. Reduce lead time

Any of the kaizen goals above will require waste elimination. They will also improve the financial performance of your organization.

So the next time you’re stumped applying your knowledge of the eight wastes of lean, consider making use of these kaizen strategies.

Training Associates to Eliminate Waste

Various training methods can be used to teach the eight wastes on the job and are listed below.

While any of these training activities can be performed without an external curriculum, we highly recommend the use of video training to make initial and on-going training easy, time-efficient, and consistent across multiple shifts and trainers.

Waste Scavenger Hunt

Create or use a simple scavenger hunt worksheet like this one and give employees time to observe processes and write down observations of each of the wastes. This is done best with the involvement of a coach who will periodically step in to review the observations and skillfully help the employee to see more. 

Ohno Circle

Taiichi Ohno–a founder of the Toyota Production System–had a practice of placing new initiates in a circle drawn on the floor to teach them the seven wastes. He would instruct them to “stand in the circle” for hours and observe intently for problems and opportunities for improvement.

After a while, he would follow up on the learner and ask, “What did you see?” If they didn’t have a long list of observations, they were forced to stand in the circle longer.

While you don’t have to imitate Ohno’s method precisely, you may want to have associates similarly practice identifying wastes in the circle.

Video Replay & Waste Analysis

Another effective way to teach lean—especially in groups—is to record a process on video and then play it back for everyone to review and identify wastes and problems.

Daily Standup Meeting

If you have a daily standup meeting, you can easily reinforce training by asking the facilitator to bring one or more examples of a waste that he or she has observed on the job.

Our Best Training for Eliminating Waste

Train all associates with over 50 minutes of waste-elimination best practices.