Reflecting on Waste

For me, Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo are a bit like the Lennon and McCartney of waste elimination. Together they frame the technical and social sciences of what we call Lean today.

Taiichi Ohno tells us there are seven wastes that account for 95% of the elapsed time between “paying and getting paid.”  Most Lean students utilize an acronym like TIMWOODS as a mnemonic to help them remember each of the seven. Many, however, are seven waste parrots. They can repeat the wastes, but don’t have a deep understanding of their significance.

These wastes, according to Shigeo Shingo are measurable impediments to flow, if we only can see them. Much of Shingo’s writing deals with unmasking waste, hidden from us by our “conceptual blind spots.”  Shingo declares, “The most dangerous waste is the waste we do not recognize.” Wastes like MOTION, masquerade as work until we understand that breaking a sweat searching for a missing tool is not really work but something that gets the way of the work and flow of value to the customer. “Elimination of waste,” Shingo declares, “is not the problem. Identification of waste is the problem.”

Students of Lean are advised by Shingo that OVERPRODUCTION, producing more than is needed or producing too soon, is the worst of the seven wastes because it causes more of the other the other six wastes – more inventory, more transport, more waiting, more defects, more waiting and more processing.

Then Shingo adds an 8th waste, unmeasurable in an industrial engineering sense, but nevertheless according to Shingo, worse than all of the first seven wastes: Loss of creativity. Management’s failure to recognize the brilliance and experience of their employees places an insurmountable constraint on the identification and elimination of waste.

Ohno exhorts managers to “go to the Gemba” in order to see the waste and show support for employees.  He is not referring to visiting the floor only to review huddle boards: “People who can’t understand numbers are useless. The Gemba where numbers are not visible is also bad. However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.“

Shingo says, “Any reasonable person will try to remove waste if he or she can see it.” On this one point, I must disagree with Dr. Shingo. On a daily basis, in my work, I visit the workplace with operating managers where we observe together waste in its many forms.  When we reach out to employees, they share problems and struggles with us, wastes that prevent them from doing their best.  But when I return to these sites, even after weeks have elapsed, the waste that employees have shown us often remains. So I’ll add a corollary to the worst and most dangerous wastes:  “The most demoralizing waste is the waste that managers DO see in the Gemba and yet do nothing about.”


3 thoughts on “Reflecting on Waste

  1. Sid Joynson

    When lean thinking was being extracted from TPS not enough emphasis was given to Shigeo Shingo’s original thinking on the structure of productive activities. This created a serious flaw in lean thinking. —
    In 1989 I had a one hour session by myself with Shingo and his interpreter. The major part of the time was Shingo explaining his concept that the production mechanism should be seen as a network of two flows; Processes and Operations. My reason for asking him about this subject was the fact that the same two pages on this subject appear in all his books. When I asked him how important this concept was he said it was fundamental that these concepts and their relationships were understood in order to make effective improvements in productive activities. The comments below are based on the notes I took at the time and my subsequent experiences.—-
    He explained; Production is a network of two activity flows. Processes and Operations. —-
    Processes. These are the sequence/flow of events that products and services pass through on their journey from raw material/information to being finished items. —
    I.e. Storage —Transportation — Storage/delay —transformation — storage/delay —- transportation. Repeat —
    Within the process flow there are two types of storage/delay; Lot Delay and Process Delay. —
    Lot Delay. An item is delayed while the rest of the lot/batch is produced.
    Solution —One piece flow. —
    Process Delay. An item is delayed while it waits for previous items to be processed through the next machine/activity. Solution — Synchronise cycle times. —-
    Operations This is the sequence/flow of activities conducted by people, machinery and systems on the raw materials/information and products at each process stage. —-
    I.e. Set-up — Essential motion — Auxiliary motion — Marginal allowances. Repeat—S.E.A.M
    (Essential motions are those that produce what the customer requires; are valuable to them. i.e. P.S.E. P — Product- the physical item. S — Service to support the product. E — Experiences the customer enjoys acquiring, using and maintaining the product/service). —-
    If you see processes as the vertical flow and the operational one as a horizontal flow along from each process stage you can see his network. —-
    What then becomes obvious is that only the essential step of the transformation process is valuable to the customer, everything else is waste and is a candidate for elimination. —
    The fundamental rule is to improve the process before the operation. Don’t improve transportation eliminate it. —
    The ultimate goal is one piece flow with synchronised cycle times that represent customer demand rate. —-
    When you see all these elements you can appreciate Shingo’s genius for simplicity. They should be the basic principles for all lean thinking and waste elimination activities.—
    When you understand Shingo’s network, which I understand came from it his work with and studies of the activities at Toyota Motors, it becomes easy to see the waste in any system.

  2. Tom Gormley

    Thanks Bruce for your experienced view on the biggest waste of all — seeing waste and not doing anything about it. Perhaps Shingo never experienced that at Toyota. Although problems and waste may persist despite efforts to improve, I think the case you’re talking about is when there’s been no effort. I agree – it’s frustrating and we see it all the time in healthcare. In healthcare there’s enormous waste and opportunity, which when you bounce it against an often slow-changing culture and scarce, stressed out resources, it seems we have to learn to be satisfied with a few, small wins. I’m curious as to your perspective – can we succeed with this approach if success is defined as let’s say — transformation in 5 or 10 years to “everyone, every day continuous improvement”?


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