The ability for individuals to see waste is critical to continuous improvement in any organization.

In traditional projects, many of the participants have become immune to the waste that is all around us;  people waiting for information, materials, or other work to be completed; inventory piled everywhere is double-handled, damaged, or lost; equipment and people are constantly moving from place to place in an effort to be productive; defects are so pervasive that we use a punchlist system to track them all; and the true contribution of each individual is squelched by a management or culture where their input has little value.

Making progress to a better way starts with the ability to see this waste and becoming truly dissatisfied with the status quo.  A simple “waste walk”, a visit to the work location to watch the process, can reveal amazing opportunities to eliminate waste.  Some changes are like slow, fat rabbits;  easy to catch, and delivering a big reward.

When we start to learn about waste, its important to catch a few slow, fat rabbits to see the benefits and build our improvement muscles.  As we build proficiency as an organization, we can tackle tougher and tougher challenges with ease.  This focus on elimination of waste is a great place to start your lean journey.

We define waste and anything that does not contribute directly to delivering value to the owner.  In other words, if it doesn’t convert materials into the finished projects, it’s probably waste.  Common categories of waste include the following:

Transportation – unnecessary movement of materials and equipment

Inventory – any material or work-in-process that is not immediately being incorporated into the finished project

Motion – unnecessary movement of people

Waiting – for information, materials, etc.

Overproduction – making more of anything than is needed to support the imediate work

Overprocessing – doing more work or delivering a higher quality that the owner desires

Defects – errors and mistakes

Underutilized People – failing to capture the valuable knowledge and creativity of every worker

Try a “waste walk” for yourself.  Bring a list of these eight wastes with you and write down what you see.  You might be surprised at how much you’ve learned to ignore over the years.