So I’ve mentioned becoming more efficient by reducing waste. “Waste” is generally described as trash or stuff we throw away but there’s actually a more broad definition that goes beyond trash.
From a Lean and process improvement perspective, waste is any step or resource allocation for which the customer has no value.
(Wait, what? Huh?)
Okay, breaking it down more…waste is any part of a process that the customer won’t pay for. Any step we do in completing processes or producing an end product from raw materials that does not help us actually complete the process is a waste. Waste can be an activity, a tangible product, or a resource that is not properly used. We complete processes for customers every day – making parts, delivering purchases, serving meals.
That said, the customer isn’t going to pay for the fact that you painted his fender the wrong color and now you have to repaint it. The customer isn’t going to pay for the fact that you were stuck in traffic and were late with the package. The customer isn’t going to pay extra for the extra distance you had to walk to deliver his burger because the aisles between his booth and the kitchen were blocked. Anything that does not directly lead to the completion of the process is a wasteful activity.
Oh, and there are eight types of waste. Let’s go through them, as a primer.
1. Excess motion
Following a recipe in a kitchen as an example, the cook has to find utensils and dishes, gather ingredients, move partially-created dishes around, maybe set the table, put used dishes in the sink, etc. Many times they’re going back and forth between the utensils drawer, the dish cabinets, the stove, the trash can, and the table. That’s a lot of movement! What if better preparation made sure all utensils were not only available but within a short reach? What if the trash can wasn’t so far away? Reducing motion means saving time and energy…and maybe that meal gets cooked faster.
Using time and resources for picking up/moving/dropping off of raw materials or finished product, as well as moving materials/product over long distances, outside of the actual process itself is wasteful. For example, storing frozen hot dogs, buns, and condiments far away from a concession stand requires more transportation and travel back and forth from storage than might be necessary.
This is the creation of products that are either defective or not what the customer requested. Perhaps the customer asked for products that were 25” in diameter and the process delivered products that were 23” in diameter instead, or a press operator bent copper bars to the wrong angle. How often have you asked for a Diet Coke at a concession stand and you receive a regular Coke instead? As a result, material and effort was wasted on parts that will either never be used or require additional manpower to correct. By making the product correctly the first time, scrap and rework opportunities can be avoided.
4. Excess Production
This is the production of more product than what the process customer requires, or making it much earlier than necessary. Overproduction can be the most expensive type of waste because it leads to other kinds of waste. If a stamping process stamps more steel sheets or delivers them faster than the painting process following it requires, the stamped steel will just collect between the process steps, building up inventory and possibly taking up space. If the buildup gets too big, forklifts can move the unpainted steel to storage, requiring excess transportation. A minor league baseball team might purchase twice as many paper team schedules as needed simply because the per-unit cost was lower but then not use all of them. At the end of the season, those schedules are expired and unusable, so they become scrap. Overproduction can be reduced by making exactly what the customer/next process requires in the right quantities at the right time.
A process may have made good product, but if too much is made or made faster than which it’s needed the product will have to be stored. Storage takes up valuable floor space and requires use of wasteful transportation to move product out of the way. Many companies are addicted to inventory buildup because by keeping so much good product on site they’ll never run short of necessary product and can flex to the customers’ ever-changing needs. But sometimes inventory becomes obsolete or goes bad and all that effort was wasted on building product that wasn’t going to be needed. In addition, having lots of inventory around can be a safety concern. What if inventory buildup forces operators to step around bins or parts, potentially putting them in harm’s way in unsafe areas or becoming trip hazards?
The opposite of overproduction and inventory would be stocking out, or running out of products/components. If you aren’t able to complete your process or perform your job because someone/something has not been able to provide you with the necessary items, there’s little you can do with your time but wait. Maybe a customer has not provided you with the necessary details for order completion and you can’t move forward until they do. Perhaps someone is standing at the copier making presentation documents while you’re standing behind them waiting to duplicate order forms. It’s important to know how to properly balance production scheduling between causing stockouts and creating excess inventory.
The typical process you follow when manufacturing your parts might be stamp, paint, assemble, inspect, wrap part in foam, place neatly in crate, move full crates to storage. What if the customer doesn’t want the part painted, yet you do so anyway? Maybe the parts are durable and the customer thinks the foam is unnecessary, but foam is included as well. How about baristas at Starbucks putting lids on coffees when more than half of their customers immediately remove the lids to add more flavors or sweeteners? If the customer is unwilling to pay for the additional process steps or doesn’t find them to be valuable, those steps should be skipped. We like to go above and beyond in the name of customer service, but what if it’s cost prohibitive to do so and the value received doesn’t justify it?
8. Non-Utilized Employee Creativity/Ideas
The most-recently “discovered” waste is not utilizing the ideas generated by those who actually use the processes themselves. Operators of a manufacturing process are typically going to be the most knowledgeable about the ins-and-outs of the process, and by not considering their opinions about how they can do their job better would be a disservice to them. If they identify a problem and their proposed solution falls upon deaf ears, they’ll certainly become discouraged in providing additional ideas in the future. When solving problems, it’s important to collect and consider all possible answers, no matter the source. Empower your employees to make the processes they use better. If a ticket office operator identifies some ways to prevent excess walking or processing so they can serve customers faster, wouldn’t you be inclined to listen to those ideas?
Okay, so that’s a primer on the eight wastes. I will dig deeper into each one in future posts, providing solid examples and how to measure the resource losses resulting from those wastes.
Here’s an easy way to remember the eight wastes – okay, an EASIER way – through an acronym of DOWNTIME.
D – Defects/scrap/rework
O – Overprocessing
W – Waiting
N – Non-utilized employee ideas/creativity
T – Transportation
I – Inventory
M – Motion
E – Excess production
Now that you’ve seen short examples of the eight Lean wastes, how easy will it be to find those wastes in your processes? What can be done to alleviate them?