Learning to See Waste
Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.-Taiichi Ohno 1
The problem you will never fix is the one you can’t see. If you say you have no problems, that just means you can’t see the problems you have; and that is the biggest problem of all, says Taiichi Ohno,1 one of the designers of the Toyota Production System and inspiration for lean manufacturing. To start improving a process, first look for the waste. Paul Akers writes in his book 2 Second Lean “… I believe that 90% of everything we do is waste.” 2 Akers says that people are surprised when he says this because they believe themselves to be much more productive than that. However, once you study and understand the eight wastes, Akers’s statement will make much more sense. Instead of feeling bad about 90% of what you do being waste, be excited about how much you have to make better! I will also go into value added vs. non-value added work in my next post, which will help illustrate this point.
The eight wastes in lean philosophy are: overproduction, over-processing, excess inventory, excess motion, excess transportation, defects, waiting, and unused employee genius. I have read that Ohno originally created seven wastes, but my research shows that list left out unused employee genius, which I believe to be a key waste. (If any of you know more about this, please reach out or comment!) In their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout write: “According to Harvard psychologist Dr. George A. Miller, the average human mind cannot deal with more than seven units at a time. Which is why seven is a popular number for lists that have to be remembered.” 3 Perhaps Ohno was trying to keep the list as short as possible for this reason. I was taught the eight wastes. Let’s dissect them now.
Overproduction – to produce sooner, faster, or in greater quantity than is needed at the time, or more than the customer demands.
Overproduction in manufacturing is very obviously a waste. Take car production as the example, since Toyota is full of great examples. Keeping it simple lets say 10, two door cars are created per day. Each car has a hood, a trunk, a passenger door, a driver door, etc. Therefore, you would need 10 hoods per day to complete assembly. If you can only create 9 hoods per day, obviously that causes an issue because you are behind in production. But say the people making hoods have a really good day; they make 12! Time for celebration right? Wrong. What to do with the 2 extra hoods? Your team is creative, so they designate a corner of the warehouse for the extra hoods and move some stuff around to make space. Signs are created, clear markings are made for storage, and they transport the hoods over for storage. The next morning, the crew goes and gets the two hoods from storage, transporting them back to the assembly line. Whoops! They scratch one of the hoods while moving it. No problem, they say, they can just rework the hood to remove the defect! “Oh no” the passenger door team says! The raw materials used to create those two extra hoods yesterday have depleted the supplies they use to make their piece of the product. Now the entire supply chain is thrown off because adjustments need to be made in the other production cells to allow for correct supply allocation. Managers get involved, supply ordering needs changed, the budget is adjusted to reflect the needs. No matter how many creative solutions the team comes up with, they are all a waste because they are just “bandaid” fixes that are not fixing the root cause of the problem: the two extra hoods created. Consultant Peter Drucker writes: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” 4
Can you see how quickly this uneven production can spiral out of control until the company allocates an entire team to manage the new ordering, budget, planning, etc? Lets recap some of the points. The team had two extra hoods, so they spent time (man hours = wages) creating space in the warehouse by moving things around (excess motion and transportation). The creativity of the team to make signs and clearly mark the area is good, but it should be unnecessary. Transportation and storage lead to damage, which meant extra work to fix the problem (defects). The raw materials that the entire team uses, such as metal, to produce their individual components are now uneven because one work cell created more components than needed. All of the time spent NOT building the components and assembling the cars is a waste because the customer pays for the car, not transportation, storage, management, budgets, etc. If the company doesn’t address the overproduction of the hoods at its root cause, they will need to make dozens of changes down the line to their ordering, budget, allocation of resources, storage, etc. Money is now being spent to pay extra wages, a new department is created to oversee this change…. Overproduction leads to nearly every other of the eight wastes.
Lets take this simple analogy a step further. The production team is great, level, and smooth. They are making 10 cars per day without any additional components. Time to celebrate, right? Wrong. The dealerships can only sell 9 cars per day. The customers are only demanding 9 cars per day, but you are making 10. Every car that gets created costs a lot of money in production costs and labor, so every extra car sitting around waiting to be sold is money spent and not being recouped, putting stress on the margins. Again, storage, transportation, budget constraints, labor, etc may need to be adjusted.
What about overproduction outside of manufacturing or in regular life? Has your company overproduced unnecessary meetings? Maybe the bakery you work for bakes too many loaves of bread every day and has to sell them as discount the next day. You bought 10 tee shirts but only ever wear 6 of them. You have coffee in the morning, and tea in the afternoon, but rather than rinsing and reusing your cup you use a new cup, plus another for your water, and have a sink full of dishes that evening. How many advertising emails do you get from companies because 3 years ago you clicked “subscribe” to get 5% off your purchase, and have never unsubscribed? How often do you throw away vegetables that go bad in your refrigerator? Did you sign up for a bowling team with your friends, and it is putting stress on your personal or family time after work? I am not saying you shouldn’t make time for friends, but determine how much value you will gain from the activity vs. not doing it. Ever opened an often ignored drawer in your house and said, “what the hell is all of this stuff?” I could go on and on.
To reduce overproduction, you need to find out exactly what is needed to finish the process or meet the customer demands. Any time, money, or resources spent producing more than is needed is a waste and could be spent creating more value in another area of work or life. Make or produce exactly what is needed: no more and no less. Constantly assess and reassess what is needed and trace your processes back to the root to make sure each step is helping you achieve your goal.
I work out almost every day. If you add my work clothes up with my workout clothes, there is a lot of laundry. Luckily for me I have a casual work environment and I also purchased “nice” looking athletic shirts. So each morning when I get up to work out, I wear the shirt and socks that I wore to work the day before. Gross, you say? In 10 minutes that shirt and socks are going to be soaked in sweat, so does it really matter if they were worn the day before? Clean or previously worn, those clothes are going to be dirty by the time my workout is complete. I cut in half the amount of shirts and socks I was producing that needed to be washed. Just think about it, and you will see many examples of overproduction in your own life, as well as the many other wastes caused by it!
Over-processing – adding more value than the customer actually requires, or performing work that does not add value for the process. Over-processing also includes any work that needs to be done because the process was not completed correctly the first time.
Our friends making car hoods that had their amazing day, making 12 and leaving 2 extra were over-processing. They created more components than were needed, and the time spent doing that was over-processing. My example included the team fixing a scratch on one of the hoods caused by moving it around; this is also over-processing because they are performing work that should not be needed. The next example of smooth production, but only being able to sell 9 of the 10 cars created is also over-processing. The company has created more value than the customer is demanding and performed extra work because of this.
Any time, resources, or money are spent doing more than is needed, it is a waste. I am NOT saying that you should’t go above and beyond to give your customer the best experience and product possible. Don’t cut corners. But you should find out precisely what the customer or process demands, and produce exactly that. Your product should still be the best, most accurate, and highest quality possible, but you shouldn’t spend resources going beyond that. Define the desired outcome, or value, of the process and do exactly that. If a customer pays for X and you provide them with X+1 for the same price, you are providing more value than is required (unless that +1 is meant to provide the customer with value that brings them back a second time and you have accounted for it in your budget).
Those extra meetings at work aren’t adding any value for the customer. That extra bread your bakery baked needs to be handled, stored, and a discount basket created. Those 4 extra tree shirts you bought still need to be hung up in your closet, or folded in a drawer. Extra dishes need to be washed. Those extra advertising emails need to be sorted and deleted out of your inbox. Those rotten vegetables need to be thrown away (and possible the drawer cleaned), you have to meet your bowling team twice per week, and the drawer you are questioning the contents of will need to be organized.
To reduce over-processing, find out exactly what needs to be accomplished by a process or exactly what the customer demands. Determine the value that is created by the process, and make sure that demand is being met. Often, overproduction in a team can be caused by poor or lacking communication. If you give or receive unclear instructions, you may not do exactly what is needed or what you ask someone else to do will not be completed correctly. Clear, simple, effective communication of real time needs and demands with greatly help reduce the waste of over-processing.
What are you overprocessing?
Excess Motion – human movement that does not add value to the process. This includes a person walking, reaching, bending, stretching, etc.
You own a coffee shop. The customer is there to buy coffee. Every time a coffee is ordered, you have to walk 15 feet to get a to-go cup, walk back, put the cup under the machine, grind the beans, move the grounds to the machine, press the button to brew the coffee, walk over to get a lid for the cup, walk back, take the customer’s cash, and hand them the cup. Then walk the used machine parts to the sink and clean them. Then walk them back to the machine. All the while another customer is waiting. The customer pays $4 for the cup of coffee whether you walk 15 feet for the cup or 2 feet for the cup. They pay $4 for the cup whether it takes you 2 minutes to make the coffee, or 5 minutes to make the coffee. Every time you are moving, around, and that movement is not directly related to the coffee going into the cup, it is a waste. Imagine that everything you need to make the coffee is within reach of where you are standing. No time is wasted walking, bending, reaching, stretching, or crouching because you have organized your space accordingly.
Motion is one of the most obvious waste because it is so clear that walking 50 feet and walking 5 feet are very different. The goal of reducing motion is to have all of the tools, machines, and supplies as close as possible so that a person does not have to travel to get them. Carpenters wear a tool belt for this very reason. But motion is also very apparent in office work. Think about how many clicks it takes you to access the file you need on your computer. How many times you need to move your mouse to change from excel, to your internet browser, to your file folder, and then print the document you need? Reducing motion means that less time is spent traveling to get the thing you need and more time is spent actually using the thing to complete your process and add value. The customer doesn’t pay you for motion, they pay you for the product, service, or information they desire. Any time you are moving, and not providing the customer with that they want, it is a waste.
Excess Transportation – the movement of parts, tools, inventory, equipment, or other items further than is necessary to complete or add value to the process.
Transportation and motion are siblings. If I have to walk to get the tool I need, not only am I moving, but I am also transporting that tool to my work space; plus often transporting it back to where it is stored. Reducing motion often means reducing transportation. Again, keep all of the parts, tools, equipment, and other items as close as possible to reduce the time you are transporting them. The customer doesn’t care how far their product was transported before they purchase it, they just care about getting what they want when they want it.
You probably are familiar with excess motion and transportation if you have a multi-story house. How often are you walking up and down the stairs while doing laundry? Or you forget your phone charger. You ask yourself, “did I turn the thermostat down?” as you lay in bed. The less time you spend moving yourself or transporting your stuff, the more time you have actually doing whatever it is that you have determined adds value to your life or your customer.
Excess Inventory – having more parts, tools, equipment, inventory, personnel, or processes than is necessary to complete or add value to the process.
Inventory costs money, whether you produce it or purchase it. That money cannot be made back until you sell whatever it is you have produced or purchased; it is invested, waiting until you can make it back. Inventory needs to be organized, categorized, labeled, moved, cleaned, and counted. Having more inventory than is needed increases the time it takes for all of the processes I just mentioned above. If the inventory is not adding value to the customer or absolutely necessary for the process, then it is excessive and is a waste.
My wife and I have moved 4 times in last 6 years, one of those includes moving across the country. You are never truly aware of how much stuff you have until you need to pack it and move it across the country. If you haven’t worn those clothes in over a year, get rid of them. When your closet is stuffed and you have to look through a bunch of clothes you never wear to find the handful of things you do wear, it is a waste of your time. It can also cause anxiety and be psychologically draining when you are constantly looking through large of amounts of stuff for the one thing you need. Try and find what you have that makes you happy, actually adds value to your life, or is necessary. Get rid of the rest. Less inventory = more time, more money, and more freedom. In his blog post 100 Tips For A Better Life, Conor Barnes writes for tip #4: “If you’re looking for your good X, you have bad Xs. Throw those out.” 5
Defects – problems with processes, inventory, information, or even attitudes; damaged tools, equipment, parts, or people.
When something is defective, it needs to be reworked, repaired, or replaced. When a process is not completed correctly the first time, a product is damaged, or a customer is not happy, nearly every of the other eight wastes is created. Reworking, repairing, and replacing costs a lot of money and takes time and resources that could be used to create new value somewhere else. There is the old adage that if you do not have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? One of my best friends is really into cycling, he always says “buy it nice or buy it twice.” When things break or fail or deteriorate, only waste is created.
My boss added attitudes to the list of defects. When someone on your team has a defective attitude, is detracts from the positivity, productivity, and possibilities of the rest of the team. No one wants to work with, or be friends with, the person that complains all of the time. I am all for a healthy amount of skepticism and questioning, but the goal should be to find or make improvements that improve the situation and not create unnecessary drama around it.
Focus on quality above all else. Doing it right the first time, producing quality products or services, and minimizing errors will never be bad for business. Have you ever ordered food from a restaurant, and it’s really bad even though you have been there many times before with great results? All it takes is that one bad time to make you think twice next time you want to order food. Warren Buffet says: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Waiting – there are 3 main components to waiting: “things” waiting, people waiting, or information waiting.
Waiting = waste. Plain and simple. Unless that waiting time is absolutely critical for the job to get done, like waiting for stain to dry before adding finish while woodworking, it is waste. And lets say waiting is necessary to get the job done, like the woodworking example, what can you be doing while the stain is drying to prepare for the next step? If you think about it, everything is waiting all of the time for something to happen.
In my job in online retail, we order product and wait for it to arrive. When it arrives, it is waiting to be received. Once it is received, it is waiting to be physically stocked and digitally added to our inventory. Once stocked, it is waiting to be sold. Once sold, it is waiting to be picked. Once picked, it is waiting to be packaged for shipping. Once packaged for shipping, it is waiting to be picked up by the mail carrier. Once the mail carrier picks it up, it is waiting to be delivered. So from the customer’s perspective, they are waiting for the product to be available for sale, waiting for us to handle the order, and waiting for the shipment to arrive. Meanwhile, how many employees are waiting within that set of processes? Each step of a process may include some kind of waiting. Focus on how to take advantage of every second you have during the day so that at the very least, YOU are not sitting around waiting. Be proactive, plan ahead, and have procedures in place for what to do when waiting is needed.
Unused Employee Genius – not using your greatest asset, your mind and the minds of your employees, to the full potential.
Not using your employee’s or your own genius is the greatest waste there is. It feels good to go to work everyday and know that your actions, inventions, and attitude will make a positive impact on the rest of your team. Back to the “why” of lean; the why is to empower people to become creative geniuses and, as my boss says, world class problem solvers who are viewed by all as positive influence in their company, community, and the world. Create the culture of continuous improvement. Allow experimentation and testing. Treat work like the scientific method: form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze the results, and implement positive changes that are found. Make yourself better, make your team better, make your company better, make your community better, and make your world better. Listen to the people who do the job, they are the most qualified to improve it.
… the whole problem of discovering what was the matter, and figuring out what you have to do to fix it – that was interesting to me, like a puzzle.-Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist. 6
Waste begets more waste. Things created by overproduction need to be managed, organized, inventoried, cleaned, sold, recorded for taxes, talked about during a meeting, invoiced, put on a spreadsheet, and on and on. Overprocessing takes time and doesn’t add value. Excess transportation or motion do not produce anything valuable. Excess inventory has to be categorized, organized, and cleaned. A defective process or product has to be reworked at the expense of time, money and resources. And not using employee genius means you are not taking advantage of the greatest asset of any company; the people.
Time is a human’s most valuable, and also un-renewable, resource. How much of it are you wasting managing things that add no value to your life or work? I would rather be mountain biking than cleaning out my drawers. Snowboarding rather than hanging up clothes. Getting a beer with friends rather than deleting useless emails. Reading rather than doing dishes. In the moment, that extra second may not matter very much. But if you repeat that process daily, weekly, or monthly, those seconds add up. My company will ship nearly 400,000 packages this year; 2 seconds of wasted time per package would equal 222.22 hours of waste. Those 2 seconds may not change that single package, but when repeated it creates exponential amounts of waste. Think about those 2 seconds in your own life. Having an extra 222.22 hours in a year will change your life.
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1. 28 Mind-Blowing Taiichi Ohno Quotes, Jan 11, 2017 by Brandon Gaille, Accessed 12/26/2020, https://brandongaille.com/28-mind-blowing-taiichi-ohno-quotes/
2. 2 Second Lean, by Paul Akers, page 24, Copyright © 2019 by FastCap Press
3. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, by Al Reis and Jack Trout, page 39, HarperBusiness; First Paperback Edition (April 27, 1994)
4. Peter Drucker Quotes. BrainyQuote.com, BrainyMedia Inc, 2021. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/peter_drucker_105338, accessed January 3, 2021.
5. 100 Tips For A Better Life, by Conor Barnes, December 22, 2020, accessed January 1, 2021, https://ideopunk.com/2020/12/22/100-tips-for-a-better-life/
6. Warren Buffett Quotes. BrainyQuote.com, BrainyMedia Inc, 2021. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/warren_buffett_108887, accessed January 3, 2021.
7. Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, by Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton, Edward Hutchings, editor Albert R. Hibbs, W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 17, 1997)