The Eight Wastes of Process Improvement

As a member of the Process and Business Analysis community at North Highland, I have the opportunity to help clients improve the way they identify and eliminate process inefficiencies within their organizations. In a moment of self reflection, it occurred to me to look closer at the potential wastes in process improvement approaches and how they can be prevented.

  1. Overprocessing: Refers to providing more features than required. It happens when a Process Engineer delves deep in a project before understanding the opportunities (e.g. bottlenecks). This can be prevented by first developing a Value Stream Map and securing alignment with the business owner on the prioritization.
  2. Defects: Occurs when the output is not fit for use and shows up as partial or incorrect opportunities. This happens when Process Engineers rely on interviews and existing documentation to develop process maps. This can be addressed by going to where the work takes place and observing the barriers employees encounter as they perform their activities.
  3. Transportation: Refers to the unnecessary movement of information, tools, inventory, equipment, or products. This occurs when all members of the value stream are not engaged and the same message has to be delivered multiple times. This can be addressed through virtual management applications (e.g. digital Kanban boards and online meeting apps). 
  4. Motion: Refers to the unnecessary movement of people and shows up as organizational false starts. To minimize the likelihood of this happening, be sure to develop a good stakeholder management plan and have engaged executives.
  5. Excess Inventory: Includes assets not used in a timely manner as a result of overproduction (ex: in-flight projects which never seem to come to conclusion). It is key to prioritize initiatives and ensure team members have the capacity to apply the needed effort to bring the project to conclusion on schedule.
  6. Overproduction: Refers to production of work before it is requested or required. Overproduction can be seen when solutions are provided and the internal customer is not ready (ex: what may happen when you do not include your change management partners). It is important to bring the organization along with thoughtful communications, training, and tools to effectively execute the improvements.
  7. Waiting: Takes many forms including people waiting for services, customers waiting for an improvement implementation, and/or management waiting to see results. This can be addressed by applying Kanban techniques with the process implementation approach. It includes engaging customers with user stories, implementing changes incrementally, and visually tracking improvements along the way. 
  8. Not Utilizing Talent: Refers to unused talent and ingenuity which results from overreliance on top-down initiatives (ex: people wondering if this next change is just the “flavor of the month”). It’s important to recognize that sometimes the people doing the work are most capable of identifying problems and developing solutions to address them. There are a few key things to involve your people: engage all levels of the organization, train them on process improvement, recognize them for identifying problems, bring them “to the table”, and let them problem-solve.

Lean thinking aims to remove wastes from work processes. All too often, we focus on the steps we need to take in order to improve the process. Rarely, do we take a moment and look at what we can do to improve the approach to “process improvement.” Before jumping into a process improvement project, take a moment to reflect on the solution so as not to introduce unnecessary waste.