5 common mistakes while identifying waste

5 common mistakes while identifying waste

Lean means doing more with less in order to improve efficiency and productivity. Its main goal is to simplify processes by eliminating what does not add value to the customer. But be careful to fall into these 5 common mistakes when applying this valuable Lean tool.
What is waste?


Waste is a fundamental Lean concept that consists of identifying and eliminating those tasks that do not add value from the perspective of all stakeholders, which include both the internal and external customer. These wastes are known as “muda”, and add cost in terms of time, effort, and materials.

The technique has its origins in the Toyota Production System, which, in the mid-20th century, aimed to achieve greater efficiency by decomposing and analyzing the processes in its production plants.

The search and elimination of waste allowed Toyota to:

  • increase the value,
  • reduce costs,
  • prevent problems.


Finding waste is still a valuable practice. Based on the requirements of both the internal and external client -and what he/she considers that adds value- the unnecessary can be eliminated and customer requirements can be satisfied with greater speed and lower cost.

How to identify waste?


Now, how can you find and reduce what does not add value? Pay attention to the following types of waste:

  • Overproduction: Do you produce more than you can sell? Or do you produce too far in advance? Align your processes with customer demand and deliver the product when required (just in time) in order to avoid unnecessary storage and time costs.
  • Delay: Do your collaborators have to wait for parts or equipment to be able to continue producing? Is there dead time while a person waits for the previous one to finish its tasks in order to continue with theirs? Is there machinery that is not used for long periods of time, while waiting for the previous step of the process?
  • Transportation: Does the journey of your product in the process add value to the final product? Or are there movements to intermediate sites that only delay the delivery to the customer? Are your supplies stored several times before being used?
  • Overprocessing: Are specifications being processed more demanding than what the customer requires? Are tasks duplicated?
  • Inventory: Do you have more products in your inventory than those you can ship out? Does the product in process accumulate in any instance of your process? Do you keep unnecessary items in your office?
  • Defects: Do you repeat activities because of a previous error? Do not forget that it is always more efficient to prevent defects than to correct them.
  • Movement: Do people make movements that do not add value? Do they have to look for materials, walk too much, or waste time organizing work materials? Implementing visual controls or improving the layout of the workspace will help.
  • Materials: Do you consume too many supplies? Do you print more sheets than necessary? Do you use more energy than you need?
  • Information: Do people participate in meetings in which they are not needed? Are they being copied in emails in which they do not understand what is expected of them? Are there leaders who give confusing instructions?
  • Human potential: Do you use all of the people’s time and talents? Are each person’s skills identified and are they consequently placed in the job position where they can add more value? Establish career plans and constantly train your people.
5 common mistakes in the search for waste


Identifying waste is perhaps the most widespread practice of Lean, but not everyone truly understands its usefulness and how to do it. These are the 5 most common mistakes we tend to find when identifying waste.


1. Focusing on waste rather than value


The focus of Lean is not on the waste itself. Waste is only eliminated for the purpose of increasing customer value. Understanding that the customer only wants value, the aim is to create an optimized system that considers the entire value chain and eliminates those resources that do not add value in critical areas.

Lean means doing more with less; less time, less space, less effort, less equipment, fewer materials, and less cost, as long as the customer receives what he wants.

But there may be particular situations that we must consider. For example, if an increase in inventory adds value to the customer, it is valid to do so.


2. Confusing waste with the root cause


Identifying waste is only a starting point for improvement, but it is not the same as finding the root cause of a problem.

However, we must not minimize the importance of searching for waste. Finding problems such as overproduction, defects, delays, or inventories will allow us to act fast, correcting and eliminating them in order to reduce time, improve quality and lower costs.

Additionally, doing a good waste analysis will help find quick-win opportunities.


3. Searching for waste from behind the desk


We can only find problems through the direct observation of the process. We need to “go, see and understand” in the Gemba itself, that is, in the place where the events are taking place.

It is in the Gemba where you will see the waste because it is there. The numbers that we can observe in a meeting room, or on our desk, measure results but do not show the real details of what is happening.

The leaders need to be the first to visit the Gemba. They need to hear and understand first-hand the point of view of those who are part of the process. Only then can they make the right decisions.


4. Thinking of the process as static


Improving a process is not a one-time thing. It is about seeking innovation and perfection through constant cycles of continuous improvement.

What is customer value today may not be value tomorrow. And this is why we must constantly be on the lookout for waste and potential improvements.

The key is to install a culture of continuous improvement, a standardized method of addressing problems, where proposals do not fall into a suggestion box that no one will read and where those who find a problem are not punished but rewarded.


5. Forgetting the critical role of the human factor


When analyzing processes, it is common to lose sight of the importance of people. But we must understand that the process is no more than those who carry it out.

If we want to implement real improvements, we need to involve these people in the search for improvements. We need to ensure everyone´s collaboration and commitment by building interdepartmental teams. We need motivated collaborators who have their hearts set on improving.

In conclusion


If you want to save time and costs, focus on the customer’s needs. If you understand his/her requirements -what is of value for him/her- you will be able to create products and services to satisfy the demand at the time, in the place, and in the quantity and quality demanded.

Waste elimination and prevention is a very useful tool in order to improve efficiency. But do not forget that it is a tool and not an end in itself.

Do not confuse waste with the root cause, either. Some problems may need deeper analysis, but starting by spotting what you don’t need is a first step, and certainly an important one.

Visit the Gemba and talk with those who carry out the process. Do not forget that the processes are dynamic and the requirements of the clients as well. The improvement must be continuous.

And finally, do not forget the key role of the human factor. Promote a culture in which all workers continually improve their skills, competencies, and processes. And in which everyone constantly seeks improvement for the client.

Author: Martín Molteni.

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