Change Focus: Process Improvement 

8 Wastes of Lean

The 8 wastes of Lean, also known as DOWNTIME, are a set of categories used to identify non-value-adding activities in a process.
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Background to Lean Thinking and Wastage

The “8 Wastes of Lean” are 8 different types of waste used in Lean thinking and continuous improvement. In the concept of Lean, waste can loosely be described as anything which doesn’t add value – to the process, organisation or end-user. Lean thinking is a well-established methodology that has been used in a whole range of sectors to increase efficiency and eliminate waste. The concept originated from the Japanese manufacturing industry, specifically from Toyota’s production system, and has since been adopted by various industries globally. Lean is all about the elimination of waste (referred to as “muda” in Japanese) to enhance the overall efficiency, productivity, and profitability of businesses.

Waste in the context of lean thinking is not just about physical waste or scrap materials, but it is more about the waste of resources, time, and potential. It’s about identifying and eliminating non-value-added activities that do not contribute to the end-product or service. These wasteful activities are often invisible and buried within the operational processes, making them hard to identify without a systematic approach.

To combat this, the lean methodology has defined eight major types of waste that are commonly found in most operations. These wastes serve as a guideline to identify, understand, and eliminate unnecessary activities, enabling organisations to streamline their processes and become more effective and efficient.

What are the 8 Wastes of Lean?

The 8 wastes of Lean, also know by the acronym DOWNTIME, are as follows: Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over-processing, Defects, and Skills. Each of these wastes represents a specific type of non-value-adding activity that hinders the efficient functioning of a process.

These wastes not only consume valuable resources but also have a direct impact on the quality of the end product or service, customer satisfaction, and the overall performance of the organization. The ultimate goal of Lean is to minimize or eliminate these wastes to achieve a smooth, efficient, and value-adding process.

Identifying and eliminating these wastes can not only improve the efficiency of your processes but can also significantly enhance the overall performance of your organization. It’s not just about increasing productivity, but also about improving quality, reducing costs, enhancing customer satisfaction, and ultimately, achieving business excellence.

How Can These Help You Improve Your Service

The identification and elimination of the 8 wastes of Lean can significantly improve your service delivery. First and foremost, by eliminating these wastes, you can streamline your processes, which can lead to faster service delivery, improved quality, and reduced costs.

Moreover, by focusing on eliminating waste, you can ensure that your resources are utilized effectively. This means that you can deliver more value to your customers without increasing your costs. In other words, you can increase your productivity and profitability without compromising the quality of your service.

Lastly, by continuously identifying and eliminating waste, you can foster a culture of continuous improvement within your organization. This can empower your employees, enhance their skills, and make them more engaged and committed, which can lead to improved service delivery and customer satisfaction.

What are the 8 Wastes of Lean?

1. Transport

Within the specific framework of a given process, the terminology ‘transport’ is commonly employed to signify the excessive, unwarranted, or nonessential movement of materials, products, or even information.

8 Wastes of Lean - Transport

Transport waste can have a direct impact on service delivery and efficiencies. It can lead to increased costs and time delays, reducing the overall efficiency of the operation. It can also cause increased wear and tear on equipment, and the potential for damage to the product during transit.

To reduce this type of waste, organizations should optimize their layout and workflow for minimal transportation. This could involve rearranging workstations, investing in more efficient transportation methods, or consolidating operations. By reducing transport waste, organisations can enhance their operational efficiency and service delivery.

Examples of Transport Waste include:

  • Moving products between different locations within a warehouse.
  • Transferring documents or information between different departments.
  • Shipping products to a distant location when a closer one is available.

2. Inventory

Inventory in the context of Lean’s 8 wastes refers to any supply or stock that is beyond the necessary or immediate requirement. It includes raw materials, work-in-progress (WIP), and finished goods that are not being processed. This excess inventory ties up capital, occupies space, and might even become obsolete, causing financial losses.

8 Wastes of Lean - Inventory

The impact of this type of waste on service delivery and efficiencies is significant. When inventory levels are high, it can lead to longer lead times, increased storage costs, and decreased cash flow. It also hides problems like production issues, since employees may work on unnecessary tasks to keep busy. Furthermore, overstocking can lead to product obsolescence, especially in industries where products change rapidly, like technology or fashion. Therefore, managing inventory effectively is crucial to improving operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The term “inventory” is commonly used to describe an overabundance or surplus of products or materials that are not required for immediate use or distribution.

Examples of Inventory Waste include:

  • Storing large quantities of raw materials or finished products.
  • Maintaining excessive levels of office supplies.
  • Keeping outdated or obsolete materials or products.

3. Motion

Motion, in the context of the 8 wastes of Lean, refers to the unnecessary movements of people or parts within a process. This waste could be in the form of time, energy, or resources spent moving physical items around, or it could be related to people’s movements such as reaching, walking, or bending.

8 Wastes of Lean - Motion

Motion waste can significantly affect service delivery and efficiencies. When there’s excessive motion in a process, it slows down the overall speed of service delivery, causing delays and lower productivity. Additionally, it can lead to worker fatigue and potential injuries, which can further reduce efficiency and increase costs. This type of waste often highlights poor process and workplace design, where tools, equipment, or materials are not strategically placed for efficient use.

Eliminating unnecessary motion can streamline processes, improve service speed and enhance workforce productivity, thereby increasing overall operational efficiency.

Motion refers to unnecessary movements by employees within a process.

Examples of Motion Waste include:

  • Walking long distances to retrieve tools or materials.
  • Repeatedly bending, reaching, or lifting heavy objects.
  • Searching for information or tools that are not readily available.

4. Waiting

Waiting refers to the time wasted when resources are not in motion or being processed. This could be due to a variety of reasons such as waiting for parts, information, instructions, or equipment.

8 Wastes of Lean - Waiting

Waiting negatively impacts service delivery and efficiencies by slowing down the process and extending lead times. It essentially represents idle time where value is not being added to the product or service. This delay can lead to customer dissatisfaction as it extends the delivery time. In terms of efficiencies, waiting leads to underutilization of resources, as they are not being used to their full capacity when they are waiting. This results in higher operational costs and lower productivity.

To mitigate waiting waste, organisations need to focus on streamlining processes, improving coordination and communication, and ensuring timely availability of all necessary inputs.

Waiting refers to idle time when resources are not being utilised.

Examples of Waiting Waste include:

  • Waiting for a machine to finish processing.
  • Waiting for approval or feedback.
  • Waiting for materials or information to arrive.

5. Overproduction

Overproduction refers to the process of creating more products or services than are currently required. This can lead to excess inventory, which ties up resources and space, and may also result in products becoming obsolete or expired before they can be used.

8 Wastes of Lean - Overproduction

In terms of service delivery and efficiencies, overproduction can be detrimental. For instance, it can cause delays as excess products need to be stored and managed, reducing operational efficiency. Furthermore, resources used in overproduction could have been better utilized elsewhere, thus impacting service quality. Overproduction can also lead to financial losses as excess products may need to be discounted or written off, affecting the company’s bottom line. Therefore, managing overproduction is essential in maintaining efficient service delivery and operational efficiency.

Examples of Over-Production Waste include:

  • Manufacturing more products than what has been ordered.
  • Preparing reports or analyses that are not required.
  • Printing documents that are not immediately needed.

6. Over-processing

Over-processing refers to doing more work than what is necessary to deliver the desired outcome.

8 Wastes of Lean - Over-Production

Over-processing, one of the 8 wastes of Lean, refers to any task or process that adds no value to the service or product from the customer’s perspective. It involves doing more work than is necessary to meet the customer’s needs or expectations. Examples might include unnecessary quality checks, using overly complex processes when simpler ones would suffice, or providing detailed reports when only a summary is needed.

Over-processing can significantly affect service delivery and effectiveness. First, it consumes resources, such as time, manpower, and materials, which could have been used more productively. Secondly, it can delay the delivery of the service or product, leading to customer dissatisfaction. Lastly, over-processing can lead to errors or defects, as the complexity of tasks increases the chances of mistakes.

To eliminate over-processing, organizations should critically analyze their processes, eliminate unnecessary steps, and simplify their operations. This can lead to improved efficiency, reduced costs, faster delivery times, and higher customer satisfaction.

Examples of Over-Processing Waste include:

  • Performing unnecessary quality checks.
  • Using complex tools or processes when simpler ones would suffice.
  • Providing detailed reports when only a summary is needed.

7. Defects

Defects refer to any errors or mistakes that require correction or rework. This waste occurs when products or services do not meet the required quality standards and have to be redone, which leads to additional time, resources, and costs.

8 Wastes of Lean - Defects

Defects can greatly impact service delivery and effectiveness. For instance, if a service or product has to be redone due to defects, it will delay the delivery time, which can lead to customer dissatisfaction. Further, constant defects can lead to a lack of trust in the product or service quality, damaging the company’s reputation. On the operational side, defects can cause inefficiencies as resources have to be diverted from new work to correct the defects. This can also lead to increased operational costs, resulting in reduced profitability.

By identifying and addressing the source of defects, organisations can improve their service delivery and effectiveness, increasing customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Examples of Defect Waste include:

  • Producing defective products.
  • Making errors in data entry or calculations.
  • Providing incorrect or incomplete information to customers.

8. Skills

“Skills” refers to the underutilisation or misuse of employees’ talents, skills, and knowledge. This waste manifests when employees are not given opportunities to use their skills to their full potential or when their roles do not align with their abilities.

8 Wastes of Lean - Skills

This is detrimental to service delivery and effectiveness as it leads to demotivation, reduced productivity, and poor quality of work. Highly skilled employees performing routine or low-skilled tasks may feel undervalued and unfulfilled, leading to lower job satisfaction and potentially high turnover rates.

For instance, a software engineer assigned to perform data entry tasks would be a waste of skills. The engineer’s expertise could be better utilized in tasks that require their specific technical skills. Similarly, not providing adequate training for employees can lead to underperformance and inefficiencies in service delivery.

Addressing this waste requires recognizing the unique skills and abilities of each employee, providing appropriate training, and aligning job tasks with skill sets. This enhances productivity, improves job satisfaction, and ultimately leads to more efficient and effective service delivery.

Examples of Skills Waste include:

  • Assigning routine tasks to highly skilled employees.
  • Not utilizing employees’ knowledge or ideas.
  • Not providing adequate training or development opportunities.

Using Value Stream Mapping to Explore the 8 Wastes

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a lean tool that can help you visualise your processes and identify wastes. By mapping out your process, you can see how information and materials flow, where delays occur, and where resources are wasted. This can help you identify opportunities for improvement and devise strategies to eliminate waste.

VSM can also help you understand how each step in your process contributes to the overall value creation. By focusing on value-adding activities and eliminating non-value-adding ones, you can streamline your process, improve efficiency, and enhance customer value.

Mastering the 8 Wastes of Lean

The 8 wastes of Lean are a powerful tool for identifying and eliminating waste in your processes. By focusing on these wastes, you can streamline your operations, improve efficiency, and enhance customer value. Remember, the goal of Lean is not just about eliminating waste, but also about continuous improvement and achieving operational excellence. So, embrace the Lean thinking, identify and eliminate waste, and embark on your journey towards excellence.

8 Wastes of Lean Template

Click the link to download this 8 Wastes of Lean template to explore with your own team or organisation.

8 Wastes of Lean


 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

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