The 8 Wastes Lean Eliminates

by Joe Aherne

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In the relentless pursuit of efficiency, organizations have turned to Lean principles to streamline their options. Among the critical concepts within Lean methodology is the concept of waste, representing various non-value-adding activities that hinder productivity. In this article, we’ll explore eight wastes to look out for that Lean seeks to eliminate. By understanding these elements, your organization can enhance operations and foster a better work environment.

1. Defects

Defects are imperfections, issues, or errors in products or services that deviate from customer expectations or specifications. They can manifest as misaligned components, faulty software code, or even clerical errors in documentation. When they emerge, defects result in rework, customer dissatisfaction, and increased operational costs. Understanding what defects look like and how to identify them is the first step in eliminating them.

2. Overproduction

Lean methodology also considers overproduction to be a significant waste for organizations. Overproduction occurs when you manufacture or deliver more products or services than your customers require. This excess leads to surplus inventory, which ties up resources and increases the risk of defects. This type of lean waste can take the form of producing goods ahead of schedule, excessive stockpiling, or providing more information than needed in documentation.

Boxes in a backroom showcasing excess inventory, one of the eight wastes of Lean.

3. Waiting

In the world of Lean, time is a precious resource, and waiting represents a waste of it. Waiting occurs when processes or individuals are idle, often due to poor coordination, inefficient workflows, or bottlenecks. It can manifest as employees waiting for materials or instructions, machinery downtime, or lengthy approval cycles. The result? Increased lead times, reduced productivity, and frustrated employees.

4. Non-Utilized Human Resources

Non-utilized human resources are a subtle yet significant component in the eight wastes of Lean. This occurs when employees’ skills, talents, and ideas are underutilized, leading to lost potential and diminished morale. It can manifest as employee disengagement, not having the authority to make decisions, or not being encouraged to contribute thoughts. Recognizing the value of every team member and empowering them to actively participate is pivotal in eliminating this waste and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

5. Transportation

This type of lean waste happens when goods, materials, or information are moved more than required, often causing increased lead times and operational costs. Whether it’s shipping products between multiple facilities, excessive handling of materials, or unnecessary data transfers, each movement can introduce opportunities for errors and delays.

Goods in a box being transported from a van. Unnecessary shipping or handling is another waste Lean tries to eliminate.

6. Inventory

While essential for smooth operations, inventory can quickly become a waste source, according to Lean thinking. Excessive inventory can tie up capital, consume valuable storage space, and lead to obsolete or damaged goods. It can also mask underlying problems in processes. Recognizing the optimal balance between having enough inventory to meet demand and avoiding overstock is essential.

7. Motion

Excessive motion waste occurs when employees and equipment move more than necessary to perform tasks. Unneeded movement can lead to fatigue, potential safety hazards, and decreased productivity. Whether it’s workers walking long distances to access tools or machines requiring frequent adjustments, these movements can be minimized by optimizing workflows and workstation layouts.

8. Extra Processing

In the Lean framework, extra processing is the unproductive and unnecessary effort used to refine a product or service beyond what the customer requires. This waste can take the form of overcomplicated procedures, excessive quality checks, or additional features that add no value. Extra processing not only increases costs but also leads to longer lead times and wasted resources.

Tips for Identifying and Eliminating Waste

Recognizing and addressing the eight wastes is at the core of Lean principles. Here are some valuable tips to help you identify and eliminate them in your organization effectively:

  1. Value stream mapping: A value stream map is a visual representation of your processes that allows you to identify all steps and interactions, making waste more apparent. 
  2. Engage your team: Your employees are the best resource for waste identification. Encourage them to share their insights and be part of the continuous improvement process.
  3. Customer focus: Take the time to understand customer needs and expectations. This helps you differentiate between value-adding activities and those that don’t contribute to customer satisfaction. 
  4. Root cause analysis: When you pinpoint waste, dig deeper to find the root causes. By addressing the source of the waste, you can prevent its recurrence.
  5. Standardization: Standardize processes when possible to reduce variations and errors. Consistency helps in eliminating defects, overproduction, and other forms of waste.
  6. Pull systems: Adopting pull systems refers to producing or providing services only when there’s actual demand. This reduces overproduction and excess inventory.
  7. Continuous improvement: Make Lean thinking part of your culture. Encourage constant improvement mindsets and provide adequate Lean training to equip your team with the right tools and techniques.
  8. Technology integration: Leverage technology and automation to reduce manual labour, minimize motion waste, and enhance accuracy.
  9. Measure and analyze: Use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your progress. Regularly examine the data to identify trends and areas for improvement.

One key thing to remember as you embark on your Lean journey is that waste identification and elimination is an ongoing practice that requires a solid commitment to Lean thinking and methodology. By fully embracing Lean principles, you create a culture of continuous improvement and respect for all people, allowing the waste reduction process to unfold smoothly.

Identifying and Eliminating Waste With Leading Edge Group

Understanding and tackling these eight wastes identified by Lean is one of the most critical aspects for organizations pursuing operational excellence and efficiency. By addressing the sources of waste like defects, overproduction, waiting, and extra processing, you can streamline your processes, reduce costs, and ultimately provide better value for your customers.

Keep in mind that Lean methodology isn’t just a set of principles; it’s a mindset. With the right strategies, training, and a commitment to a Lean culture, businesses can enhance their productivity, thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, and enhance employee and client satisfaction. If you’re ready to transform your organization the Lean way, reach out to us at Leading Edge Group. We offer consulting, courses, and training resources to help you bring more value to your work environment and day-to-day activities.

Joe Aherne Photo
Joe Aherne

CEO of Leading Edge Group

Joe qualified as a Certified Public Accountant in 1982. It was a decision that reaped great benefits for Joe, providing him with an international recognized qualification which allowed him to follow in his father and grandfathers’ footsteps who had both worked and lived abroad. Having qualified as a CPA, Joe took up financial positions in the Middle East and UK.

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