The seven wastes provide a systematic way to categorize problems and identify improvement priorities. When assessing a process, looking for the seven wastes helps Lean teams find more opportunities to streamline the flow of work.
The 7 Wastes are:
Occasionally, an extra waste will be added to the original seven wastes. This 8th waste is unused creativity.
Try not to get too wrapped up on deciding which form of waste something is—waste elimination, or at least waste reduction, is the goal. It doesn’t really matter which category you assign it to. If something is muda, eliminate as much of it as possible.
In a Lean culture, waste is usually defined as anything that doesn’t add value. Note that the term ‘waste’ is often used interchangeably with the Japanese word, muda, but more accurately, muda means ‘wasteful activity’. It is closely related to the terms mura (variation or inconsistency) and muri (unreasonableness or overexertion).
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Taiichi Ohno identified seven types of waste.
Every defect is caused by an error in a process.
The obvious solution then is to find where the errors occur and fix the process. Defects for a roadside lemonade stand include the obvious—spoiled lemons or bugs in the lemonade, but spilled drinks, sticky cups, or incorrect change are all types of defects as well.
If Jimmy took phone orders, and had to walk into the house each time the phone rang, that would be an example of wasted motion.
You might also see an eighth waste. It is normally called something like the underutilization of people or unused creativity. In a nutshell, it deals with the waste of human potential. People in every organization have great ideas inside of them. Leaving those ideas untapped certainly sounds like waste.
Many people have the misconception that overproduction does not exist outside of the manufacturing sector. Lean office waste (and service waste) certainly looks different than it does in manufacturing, but it is present nonetheless. It is primarily apparent when work is pushed onto the next step and hits a bottleneck, where it will sit for a long period before being touched again.
When work gets passed on without any regard for how backed up the next worker is, the system soon gets swamped and bogs down. For example, an overworked engineer may routinely have design change requests piled into a stuffed inbox. What’s the result? Being backed up adds work—prospecting to find the right document, trying to prioritize, and answering the inevitable calls of, “Where’s my stuff?” Notice that these things are actually other forms of waste. That is because:
Overproduction creates or hides all the other six types of waste. For that reason, it is widely considered to be the worst of the Seven Wastes.
You can also think of excess capacity as overproduction in service environments. For instance, when a plane takes off, the airline is paying to move all the seats, whether they are empty or full.
Excess capacity in the office (and in service) is overproduction and costs money.
This entry was adapted from my book Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean?
Learn to think in terms of the seven wastes. When you find yourself doing something extra, think overprocessing. When you are carrying a part, think transportation. When you walk around a pile, think inventory.
When you call things what they are, you will keep the problems front and center, and will be more likely to do something about them.
Also, keep in mind that in a Lean culture, it is everybody’s job to go after the seven wastes. It isn’t enough to just identify the problems. You’ll also have to use the PDCA cycle to continually eliminate them. If you are not familiar with improvement methodologies, ask your boss for assistance, but keep in mind that waste generally is closely linked to the frustrating parts of your job. As you start learning to identify and eliminate the seven wastes, you’ll find that your job satisfaction will start to rise.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Lean is that it focuses on waste reduction. The truth is that waste reduction is a means to an end, and that end is creating flow.
Flow lets you serve customers faster, and with better quality. It keeps your company flexible, as there is no inventory and oversized infrastructure to keep you from responding to changing market conditions.
If waste reduction was the only objective, then the business would have a profit threshold. It could only make as much as sales brought in, and that would be with a 100% profit margin. Lean’s real power is in pulling out the waste the holds back growth.
So, your job is to be relentless at attacking the seven wastes. When things start working smoothly, stress the system by reducing inventory. Pull people out of the process. Take away some floorspace. Doing those things will remove all the cushioning that is built into a process, and will highlight its inefficiencies.
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