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7 Wastes (+Lean PDF +Video +MP3 +Form)

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The “seven wastes” is one of the most important continuous improvement terms you will hear. Most of the Lean tools, at their core, focus on reducing waste to improve flow.

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.

Searching for Waste

Identifying waste is a teachable skill.

The 7 Wastes are:

Taiichi Ohno (considered by many to be the father of Lean) highlighted overproduction as the worst of all the 7 Wastes.

Occasionally, an extra waste will be added to the original seven wastes. This 8th waste is unused creativity.

Waste Recording Form

Click the image to download a free
Waste Recording Form.

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).

Continuous Improvement Audio Terms

Taiichi Ohno identified seven types of waste.[1]

  1. Defects. Defects in products—when items don’t work properly—are clearly a waste. But defects can also happen in processes, such as building the wrong model or delivering a part to the wrong location. Defects obviously require work to correct. Worse, if they make their way downstream to a customer, the poor quality can reduce profit in the form of lost sales. Defects give otherwise loyal customers a reason to look elsewhere for a more reliable product. Where can defects be traced back to?
  2. 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.

    Defect Waste

  3. Overprocessing. This is generally viewed as anything in excess—any unnecessary steps or processes that do not add value to the end product or service. A young neighborhood boy selling lemonade would be overprocessing if he shook up his lemonade in a sealed container and then stirred it as well.
  4. Transportation. Moving material from one place to another wastes time and energy and includes a risk of loss or damage. At first glance, transportation may seem necessary; but, it is normally the result of a non-Lean layout. Sometimes, this type of waste is so bad that when a particular route is traced on top of a factory map, it looks like a bowl of tangled spaghetti! This type of waste can be present in an Lean office as well— if you have to carry a file down a hall to a fax machine and then walk it back to a file storage room. Jimmy might have had this form of waste if he frequently carried lemons, water, or cups back and forth between the house and the stand.
  5. Motion. While moving material or products from one location to another is transportation waste, the unnecessary movements of workers or tools is a waste of motion. Wasted motion takes time and uses up energy, especially if the tool or equipment is heavy. Other examples include the following:
    • Re-orienting parts to get them into a new position.
    • Walking between work stations to get tools.
    • Shuffling files to get to the right one.
    • Flipping a tool around in your hand to get it ready to use.

    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.

  6. Waiting. Waiting for parts, letting glue set, watching a machine work, staring at the hourglass on a computer screen—all this is waste. Jimmy would be wasting time if he stood by watching his juicer squeeze lemons.
  7. Inventory. An excess of inventory ties up money that could be used for other things. It also slows down the speed of production, which matters most when custom products or perishables are involved. It is important to remember that inventory includes not only supplies of raw materials but also finished products awaiting sale. Jimmy has inventory waste when his stockpile of lemons and sugar exceeds his immediate needs.
  8. Overproduction. Overproduction occurs any time an upstream process produces more than a downstream process can use right away. The result is always the same. Inventory piles up along the value stream. Overproducers generally have a reason for making more than needed. Workstations might be far apart, and big batches reduce travel time. Maybe the overproduction is a hedge against maintenance problems. Perhaps machines take a long time to switch between parts, so the operators run large lots. Regardless of the reasons (most of which are avoidable), overproduction is wasteful. Slicing lemons faster than they can be juiced is an example of overproduction in Jimmy’s roadside operation.

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:…

[1](Ohno, 1988)

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  • Don’t spend more than a few seconds trying to categorize waste. The key is to identify it.
  • Don’t spend time identifying waste if you aren’t going to work to eliminate it. That just adds to the waste.
  • Don’t tolerate waste. It is easy to become numb to it. The more visual you make a process, the more waste stands out.

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…

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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.

Waste and Value

Waste and Value are Closely Related

So, your job is to be relentless at attacking the seven wastes. When things start working smoothly, stress the system by…

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  • The 7 Wastes are a great way to make waste identification a systematic process.
  • Categorizing waste into the seven forms makes you more likely to identify a greater number of problems.
  • Identifying waste is only part of the battle. You still have to eliminate it.


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