I guess four months into this, it kind of makes sense to talk about waste. But rather than repeat what everyone else says, maybe I can contribute to the dialog and toss out some things to think about.

Identifying / Seeing Waste.

Taiichi Ohno had 7 wastes, a few publications say 7+1. I have always disliked trying to put “types of waste” into buckets. I have seen long discussions, some of them fairly heated, about which list of wastes is “correct” and whether this waste or that waste should be included, or whether it is included in another one. None of this passes the “So What?” test. (A related military acronym is DILLIGAS, but I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out what it means.)

The problem, as I see it, with lists of categories isn’t the categories themselves. It is that we teach people using the categories. We make people memorize the categories. We create clever mnemonics like TIMWOOD and CLOSEDMITT. We send them on waste safari with cameras to collect “examples” of various types of waste. Well.. you can’t take a photo of overproduction because it is a verb. You can only photograph the result – excess inventory. So which is it? People end up in theological discussions that serve no purpose.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, teach it by inverting the problem. The thing people need to understand is this: Anything that is not adding value is waste. If you understand what value is, then waste is easy to see. It is anything else. What category of waste is that? Who cares. That only matters when you are working on a countermeasure.

What about “necessary waste?” Even Ohno concedes there is some of that. OK – ask “does this work directly enable a task that does add value?” Then it is probably necessary – for now.

Let’s take a real-world example from my little corner of the world – welding. Welding is pretty easy. If there is an arc, it is very likely value is being added. Not always, but it is a good place to start. Now – watch a welder. What does he do when he is not “burning wire?” (the phrase “and producing a quality weld” has to be tacked onto the end of this because I can burn wire, but it doesn’t mean I am welding.)

What stops the welder from welding? When, and why, does he have to put down the gun and do something else? For that matter, what makes him let go of the trigger and stop the arc? Is he loading parts into the jig? Does he have to jiggle those parts into place? Does he have to adjust the jig?

Special Types of Waste

In spite of what I said above, there are two types of waste that merit special attention. Most everyone who can spell “J-I-T” knows that overproduction is one of them. I won’t go into it here – anyone who is reading this probably already gets that at some level. If I am wrong about that, leave a comment and I’ll expand.

The other is the “waste of waiting.” Of all of the categories, overproduction is clearly the worst, but the waste of waiting is the best. Why?

It is the only type of waste that can be translated directly into productivity. It is the waste you are creating as you are using kaizen to remove the others. That is because all of your kaizen is focused on saving time and time savings, in the short term, turn busy people into idle people.

Let me cite some examples:

  • The Team Member is overproducing. You put in a control mechanism to stop it. Now the team member must wait for the signal or work cycle to start again before resuming work.
  • You remove excess conveyance by moving operations closer together. The person doing the conveyance now has less to do. He is idle part of the time where he was busy.
  • Defects and rework – eliminate those and there is less to do. More idle people.
  • Overprocessing – eliminate that, less to do.
  • Materials – somebody has to bring those excess materials. Somebody has to count them, transport them, weigh them. Somebody has to dispose of the scrap.
  • Inconsistent work or disruptions: Eliminate those and people are done early more often than they were. More idle time.

If you look at a load chart, these are all things which push the cycle times down. You have converted the other wastes to the waste of waiting.

Now your challenge is how to convert that wait time to productivity. What you do depends on your circumstance. You can drop the takt time and increase output with the same people. Or you can to a major re-balance and free up people – do the same with fewer, and divert those resources to something productive elsewhere.

Does something stop you from doing that? Do you have two half-high bars that you can’t combine onto one person? Start asking “Why?” and you have your next kaizen project. Maybe you have to move those processes closer together, or untie a worker from a machine.


  • Don’t worry too much about teaching categories of waste. Teach people to see what is truly value-adding, and to realize everything else is waste – something to streamline or eliminate.
  • In most cases your kaizen activity will result in more waste of waiting. This is good because wait-time is the only waste that converts directly to increased productivity.

4 Replies to “Waste”

  1. Just discovered your blog. Love it! Pertaining to your waste of waiting, do you have examples of successful uses of the freed up people.

    We are experiencing this issue with our first real cell implementation. We have freed up “partial” people and have experienced a cyclic slow down at the same time. I don’t want to do the traditional layoffs but rather get people on value added activites. This area has participated in all the principles applied to the cell: flow, 5S, pull, 5 why, etc……

    We have asked that as you meet your kanban production signals that you do some type of value added activity such as organizing for the next production, 5s, cleaning work station, simple problem solving. However, all we really get is some broom pushing and basically shutting down 1/2 hour early every shift.

    Any suggestions for successful value added activites would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Bryan –
    Thanks for the comment.

    You are certainly correct that you don’t want to do traditional (or any other kind) layoffs. You get one chance to demonstrate commitment to people.

    Without knowing more about your specific conditions it is hard to give specific advice. However, in general, the best way to use that end-of-shift time would be to organize the work team to continue doing kaizen on their own work.

    If all you are getting is broom pushing (which is very common, by the way), then ask why. Does the team have a leader? Do they have a kaizen target (such as, over the next quarter, etc. reducing their total cycle time enough to pull the “partial” person?”) If you want them to do something else, how have you made the expectation known, and how are you leading them? That is really important.

    This might be an opportunity for a member of your kaizen team(?) to stick with this team and mentor and teach them in the afternoons. The idea is to get their creativity engaged.

    This isn’t easy. But it is where the seconds are saved, and those seconds add up. One organization I am close to practically requires a minimum of one improvement per person per day. Even if it is only a second or two, the cumulative effect has been, over about 2 years, to *double* their capacity with the same people, same capital equipment, same space, and I think one or two units of additional inventory because some parts coming out of an oven were too hot for the next operation to touch within a single takt time.

    Another company forms dedicated kaizen support teams. As their production becomes more efficient, they post additional openings and recruit the best people off the shop floor (to reduce the production headcount), then re-balance and re-shuffle people to make sure the improved operation actually gives up headcount. That team serves a couple of purposes.

    – They support kaizen events by providing backfill for workers who are participating on teams.
    – They also support kaizen events by providing experience and extra hands on the teams.
    – They *can* be used (after all other alternatives are exhausted) as backfill in case of high absences on a particular day.
    – In the hot production season, they might go into production to plus-up the work force for a faster takt.
    Because they are the best people, they tend to be flexible about where they can work and broad in their knowledge of the operation.

    If you want to get more specific, let me know and perhaps we can connect by phone or something. That would be (normally) no problem.

  3. I’m like the author and I can’t remember the seven wastes, I just know waste when I see it. I view it in terms of Lost Time or Losses. There are only two:

    Scrap/Rework or the cost of poor execution
    Everything Else – the infinite number of issues that have to be solved that cause losses. If you ever work in manufacturing you would know that the list of problems is endless.

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