What a waste! Learning the “Eight Wastes” and how to avoid them

What is waste and why do I care about it?

Office-Waste-WebinarHave you ever ordered a pizza, only to discover it’s burnt or has toppings you didn’t order? My first thought is always, “I’m not paying for that!” and I shouldn’t have to, because it’s a defect, a waste. It’s something that adds no value to what I want.

The same thing applies to our work. Should a customer (in the case of a government, it’s usually the taxpayer) be willing to pay for that ream of paper you just printed out on accident when you really only needed one copy made?

Waste happens every day and in all kinds of circumstances, but there are ways to cut down on waste in the workplace in order to be more productive and provide customers with a better product or service.


What are the “Eight Wastes”?

The “Eight Wastes” are a tool to help us think of ways to cut down on waste that may be happening in our jobs. [Who created them/what is their origin?] The easy way to remember? “DOWNTIME.” Those eight letters stand for the following types of waste:

Defects: This is an easy one. You broke something! You made something or did something or provided a service that wasn’t what the customer wanted and you have to do it again. But it might not be your fault if I didn’t train you right, the procedures weren’t clear, or someone upstream gave you a defect. What if the customer fills out your form incorrectly, who is at fault? We sometimes think the customer is at fault and doesn’t follow directions, but how clear are your directions? It’s your form for your process…maybe the customer needs a form that is mistake proof.

Overproduction: What if Parks planted trees every 2 feet? Your parks would be a forest and you couldn’t enjoy the park. What if your trash got picked up outside your house every day? That might be awesome if you produce a lot of trash but it would cost five times as much to pick up your trash. And really, do any of us really need that?

Waiting: Anytime an employee is not doing something when she/he could be is a form of waste. This is usually because two independent processes are not completely synchronized. This can also be a result of batching i.e. a person upstream fills up their outbox before they move it on to you. If you complete your process, you’re waiting for the next batch. How many times has your process stopped because you are waiting for a signature or you are waiting for an approval?

Non-utilized / underutilized human talents & things: How many computers / printers / keyboards, etc. are sitting in your storage room? Are we training people to tap the full range of their potential? Knowing your people, listening to their ideas, and involving them with process helps to build ownership and optimize performance. This is also a police officer who spends half of his day writing reports versus walking his beat protecting his neighborhood.

Transportation: This is the unnecessary movement of things between processes. Imagine your agency is split between multiple floors. When you’re done with your process, you inter-office it to the next person…that could add days to your process! Imagine you have to go to one floor to get a notarized death certificate, then another floor to file it with the Recorder’s office?

Inventory: Are you hoarding sticky notes in your drawers? We all do that, but when someone does that, it forces whoever orders supplies to order more. Unnecessary inventory that accumulates before or after a process is an indication that a continuous flow in your process isn’t happening. Use what you need and produce services “just in time” when the customer demands it.

Motion: Don’t confuse this as transportation waste, because motion waste is the movement of people or machines within a process. All those extra clicks of your mouse or filling out the same data in different fields instead of it auto-populating is motion waste.  Shuffling around all the papers on your desk or searching through your shared drive or emails to get to what you need. Walking across your office to make a copy is another example. That’s waste.

Excessive Processing: My favorite example is toothpicks. Say there are 250 toothpicks in a box that cost $2.00. As the TPS Toothpick Company, how much effort should I spend making sure there is exactly 250 toothpicks in a box? Is the customer going to count to make sure they weren’t ripped off? How much effort is it going to take me to modify my process to guarantee 250 toothpicks are in that box? At what cost? Does the customer care? Excessive processing is putting more into the product or service than is valued by the customer. Imagine I fill out a form and the next person checks my work. They either kick it back to me or fix it themselves and send it to the next person upstream. How many mistakes are we making that we need that much quality control? Are those errors acceptable?

In short, we identify wastes in a process to eliminate, or at least mitigate their impact. Waste can be harmful for employees and customers because resources are squandered and customers are asked pay for a process they probably don’t value. Drudging through a job ripe with waste serves only to create a disgruntled workforce.

Identify your process, identify your customer, and identify all of the steps in the process, then focus on finding the waste. Focus on that waste as opportunity for improvement. And use the acronym, DOWNTIME, as a mnemonic device to make sure you can identify all the waste in your process and get rid of it!


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