Eliminating unnecessary waste is at the very heart of lean. Anyone seeking to practice lean must therefore understand the eight wastes of lean. The 8 wastes of lean are eight categories of wasteful or unnecessary activities that rob us of our time, energy, and money.
Introduction to the 8 Wastes of Lean
The concept of “waste” is best understood by first understanding the concept of “value.” Value is whatever the customer wants, and a “value-added” activity is any activity that transforms material or information a step closer to what the customer wants.
*Side note: the original wastes of Lean were numbered at seven. Non-utilized talent was added later as the 8th waste.
The Waste of Waiting
Waiting is a waste that every one of us can identify with. No one likes to wait! Delays in processes slow down our ability to deliver to customers on time. The delays also give greater opportunity for defects, confusion, and misplaced information and product. If something is waiting, stop and ask “why!” Determine the root cause and eliminate the waste!
The Waste of Inventory
Inventory may at first appear to be valuable but in practice is a form of waste. Excess inventory often requires additional space, utilities, handling, transportation, and managing. The more you have, the harder it is to keep track of it, and the busy you (or management) will be trying to track it. Inventory also hides problems. It’s difficult to see if there’s a production or quality problem when there is so much stuff. Therefore, lean organizations eliminate excess inventory and carry as little of inventory as possible—of course with appropriate buffers and controls.
The Waste of Motion
Motion is wasteful because moving alone doesn’t accomplish anything—unless you work in a dance studio! Have you ever counted how many steps it takes for you to do something? Or have you paid attention to how many times you have to open/close something, click your mouse, pick something up, or search for what you need? All of this is motion, and all of this is waste! Pay attention to the motion required to do work and live life. It can often be reduced by simplifying or rearranging your work.
The Waste of Defects
Defects are a clear and obvious waste: no one likes them! So lean maniacs and organizations eliminate them. They make processes so simple, easy, clear, and error-proof that it’s impossible to make a defect in the first place! This is called “poka-yoke”—a simple fixture or change to a process that makes defects impossible. The next time you discover a defect, don’t blame the person! Focus on the process and make it impossible for the process to create a defect again.
The Waste of Over Processing
This waste may seem confusing at first but it is very simple. Over (or extra) processing is any extra or added effort or activity that is taken to get something right. Reworking defects is therefore always a form of extra processing. Other forms of extra processing include over-cleaning, over-drying, extra trimming, extra motion, and more. If you’re struggling to get it right or using more than is necessary to do the job, you are likely experiencing the waste of extra processing.
The Waste of Over Production
Over production is regarded as the “worst of all wastes.” It is whenever you make more of something than is needed or sooner than it is needed. When you over produce, you have to hold inventory temporarily and take up space, prevent it from getting lost or damaged, move or transport it, and wait until it’s time to work on it. Batch production is the epitome of over production because product is made in large quantities and way in advance. It’s a very cumbersome to run a company or live your life! Instead, it’s best to do work just in time to eliminate needless waste.
The Waste of Non-Utilized Talent
Originally there were only seven wastes identified in lean. The eight waste was added after to recognize the waste of wasted human potential. This waste is termed different ways. Some people call it “non-utilized talent,” or “wasted potential,” or even “skills,” but it’s all referring to the same waste. There is an opportunity cost whenever we are not using our brainpower and the brainpower of every other person in the organization. Therefore, lean organizations have a very engaged workforce. Everyone is expected to think, solve problems, and make a difference every day regardless of title or status.
A Trick for Memorization
Training on the 8 wastes is often accompanied by a simple acronym to remember each waste. There are variations on the acronym and names of the wastes. Here are two of the more popular ones: DOWNTIME and TIMWOODS.
The Benefits of Waste Education
The benefit of educating employees in the 8 wastes is so large because the opportunity for improvement is so big. Experience demonstrates that as much as 90% of a process typically has wasteful activities, leaving only 10% of value-added activities.
By training an organization to identify waste, this 90% waste can be dramatically reduced. This causes lead times to shorten drastically, and in the end you have a process that is far more efficient, productive, and responsive than before.
See the illustration below for how this is achieved.
Diagram of Process Improvement – Eliminating Waste
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