The Eight Wastes of Lean

Lean methodology is centered around the principles of delivering value to the customer, eliminating waste, and continuous improvement. At its core, understanding how to eliminate waste within Lean naturally encourages continuous improvement and delivers value to the customer.

Let’s take a look at this topic a bit more as it relates to the Eight Wastes of Lean –Waiting, Unnecessary Transport, Inactive Inventory, Excess Motion, Overproduction, Over-processing, Defects, and Under Utilization.

  1. Waiting

“Products and tasks need to be in constant motion. If this is not happening, then waiting occurs.”[1]

Waiting is another way of saying that time is being wasted. Waiting can happen for many reasons in the development process. It might be a bottleneck from an unforeseen issue or, it could mean waiting for answers to questions that were not addressed earlier on. Clear processes that break down the product into small chunks can help to answer questions and identify or eliminate bottlenecks sooner. Another common example of waiting is wasted time in meetings. The Agile technique of timeboxing can help to keep meetings and planning on track.

  1. Unnecessary Transport

“The longer the transportation route, the larger amount of wasted time.”[2]

The transport process refers to the physical movement of resources (ex. equipment, personnel, etc.) or the virtual movement of product (ex. code). Problems with transport often arise from inefficient processes; however, they can also be caused from unnecessary tools or bureaucracy. For example, using a code collaboration tool that is cumbersome and create conflicts or adds layers of approval requirements. Providing a physical co-location and increasing the autonomy of employees are ways to address unnecessary transport.

  1. Inactive Inventory

“When companies stock themselves for a demand that doesn’t exist, it causes problems like defects, inefficient capital allocation, and overhead costs for storage.”[3]

Inactive inventory is usually the result of overproduction or overprocessing. The waste is created from increased overhead costs like storage and obsolescence. As previously discussed, this type of waste is often the result of inefficient processes. Producing just-in-time is one technique to eliminate the waste occurring from inactive inventory. To implement just-in-time there must be effective and efficient processes from production through delivery.

  1. Excess Motion

“If a process requires employees to take extra steps – whether physical steps or those taken within a software system – that’s a sign of a poorly planned process. Wasted time is wasted money.”[4]

Similar to unnecessary transport, excess motion means the employee needs to take additional physical or virtual steps to accomplish a task. Excess motion can be addressed by optimizing the physical work environments in a way that encourages collaboration. Also, minimize the process steps that are needed to complete a task using internal systems. This might mean improving or eliminating processes or tools.

  1. Overproduction

“All that the customer is not going to pay for can be categorized as overproduction and hence can be considered a waste.”[5]

It can be tempting for a company to overproduce a product, especially if the product is successful. Assumptions of what the customer wants or needs can also lead to overproduction. In the end, listen to the customer! Producing just-in-time can help reduce or eliminate this type of waste.

  1. Over-processing

“All the work which consumes effort and resources but doesn’t add any additional value or add a value that the customer will not pay for is considered over-processing.”[6]

Did the customer ask for the cool toggle button that took 3 additional hours to code? It might add value in the eyes of the developer but if the customer did not ask for or need it, then that is over-processing and 3 hours wasted. One way to address waste from over-processing is for the team to have a clear definition of DONE for the product.

  1. Defects

“In Lean, which has a singular focus on meeting customer needs, a defect means anything that does not satisfy customers.”[7]

Defects likely require re-work, or in some cases, starting over. The best way to reduce or eliminate defects is to solve problems along the way during product development. This means having strong processes that encourage open communication within the team and with the customer. The team must feel comfortable with voicing problems early without fear of repercussions for missed deadlines.

  1. Under Utilization

Under utilization is the waste of talent within the organization. It’s important for companies to evaluate team health on a regular basis to ensure that employees feel valued and are engaged in continuous learning. Successful teams thrive in an environment where employees feel safe to make counter-arguments, express creativity, and make mistakes without repercussions. Employees that are comfortable to offer suggestions and make mistakes are less likely to be under utilized. Wasting talent can be one of the most impactful and damaging of all the eight wastes.

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