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Lean, Process Improvement

How can I identify “waste” quickly? (Part 1)

This question was raised by a client who was keen on finding some quick ways to reduce waste and demonstrate improvement.  He knew the “right way” was to plan and implement a process improvement project, but felt there might be some other ways to make progress.

And, of course, there are other ways to identify and reduce waste.  Here’s one:

The Seven Wastes

This is one of the techniques in the Lean toolkit and originated in the Japanese car manufacturing industry.  Waste is defined as anything which doesn’t add value to the customer, which is a pretty challenging definition.  It certainly demands that you look closely at what might be called “business value-adding” activities; those which you have to do in order to run the organisation, but which the customer doesn’t necessarily care about.

The Seven Wastes are:

●      Over-production (just in case)

●      Waiting (for people, equipment, paperwork)

●      Transporting (between processes)

●      Inappropriate processing (non-value-adding steps)

●      Unnecessary inventory

●      Unnecessary/excess movement (people, paperwork, materials)

●      Defects

You can use these principles to walk out into your office, or factory (or wherever) and start spotting waste.  It can be a sobering experience.  Piles of paperwork sat on desks, people moving stuff from A to B, stocks of things done “just in case”.  The list is endless and in some of our clients’ offices everything looks pretty much like waste!

Once you’ve identified one, or more of the Seven Wastes, you then (only) need to eliminate it/them.  You could simply tell people to stop doing some of the non-value-adding activities, but in many cases you will either have to use a root cause problem solving approach, or do some process analysis.  This is where you do need to be a bit more systematic, otherwise you risk moving the problem elsewhere, or perhaps only address its symptoms.

Read more on our “Process Improvement” page.


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