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Downtime: The Eight Deadly Areas of Waste

Copious amounts of waste can occur in the workplace, particularly in a manufacturing process, but do you know what the eight most commons wastes are and how they impact your organization?

Taiichi Ohno, considered the father of Toyota Production System, created a lean manufacturing framework, which was based on the idea of preserving (or increasing) value with less work. Anything that doesn’t increase value in the eye of the customer must be considered waste, or “Muda”, and every effort should be made to eliminate that waste.

The following 8 lean areas of waste, mostly derived from the TPS, have a universal application to businesses today. The acronym for the eight wastes is DOWNTIME.

Downtime stands for:

Defects
Overproduction
Waiting
Not utilizing talent
Transportation
Inventory excess
Motion waste
Excess processing

#1 Defects

Mistakes that require additional time, resources, and money to fix. In a manufacturing process, a defect might involve a defective part that has to be remade. Some causes::

  • Poor quality controls
  • Poor repair
  • Poor documentation
  • Lack of standards
  • Weak or missing processes
  • Misunderstanding customer needs
  • Uncontrolled inventory levels
  • Poor design and undocumented design changes

Completely eradicating any form of waste is impossible, but defects can certainly be limited by the application of standardized work plans, more stringent quality control at all levels, a full understanding of work requirements and customer needs, and simple job aids such as checklists.

#2 Overproduction

In some organizations, workers just blindly keep producing, even when those who receive their output either aren’t ready for it or don’t need it. This is a big flaw as it can tie up significant working capital. It’s especially common in manufacturing, but it can occur in any workplace situation in which there’s a bottleneck. Overproduction may occur due to:

  • Just-in-case production
  • Unclear customer needs
  • Producing to a forecast
  • Long set-up times
  • Engineering changes
  • Poorly applied automation

The solution to overproduction is to establish a reasonable work flow for the benefit of the customer. Be sure that there are well-established procedures in place for every process in your organization, and if necessary, implement new processes to keep work from backing up behind particular bottlenecks in the organization.

#3 Waiting

This occurs whenever work has to stop for some reason: because the next person in line is overwhelmed, because something broke down, because you’re waiting for approval or materials, or because you’ve run out of something. Causes can include:

  • Unbalanced workloads
  • Unplanned downtime
  • Long set-up times
  • Producing to a forecast
  • Insufficient staffing
  • Work absences
  • Poor process quality
  • Poor communication

Whatever the cause, some workers have to wait for a bottleneck to be cleared. One way to address this is the need to provide adequate staffing to handle the workload at the bottlenecks, which some managers may target as a source of monetary waste.

#4 Not-Utilizing Talent

While not part of TPS’s seven wastes, this waste is being increasingly seen within businesses today. Not or under-utilizing peoples’ talents, skills and knowledge can have a detrimental effect on an organization. Companies can experience great benefits when recognizing the value of skills and improvement ideas from all levels of the business and can suffer when not effectively engaging in the process. This can typically be seen with:

  • Assigning staff to wrong tasks
  • Wasteful admin tasks
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of teamwork
  • Poor management
  • Insufficient training

If the above list sounds oddly familiar, it should: many of these failings are the same ones that result in a lack of employee engagement, which can hamstring any organization’s productivity. Key solutions include empowering your employees, stop micromanaging and increase training.

#5 Transportation

Waste caused by moving things around. This is less of a problem in a business office than in a manufacturing plant, since most of what white collar workers “transport” can be sent by email for example. Otherwise, too much transportation tends to increase costs, wastes time, increases the likelihood of product damage and deterioration, and can result in poor communication. In general, transportation waste can be caused by:

  • Poor plant/office layout
  • Unnecessary or excessive steps in the process
  • Misaligned process flow
  • Poorly-designed systems

Limiting transportation waste can be easily addressed by common-sense efforts such as simplifying processes, repairing physical layouts, handling products less often, and making distances between steps as short as possible.

#6 Inventory Excess

This waste occurs when there is supply in excess of real customer demand, which masks real production. Causes include:

  • Overproduction and buffers
  • Poor monitoring systems
  • Mismatched production speeds
  • Unreliable suppliers
  • Long set-up times
  • Misunderstood customer needs
#7 Motion Waste

Any excess movement, whether by employees or machines, that doesn’t add value to the product, service or process. Typical causes include:

  • Poor process design and controls
  • Poor workstation/shop layout
  • Shared tools and machines
  • Workstation congestion
  • Isolated and siloed operations
  • Lack of standards

The solution here is to re-arrange layouts to decrease the distance between stations, and make it easier to reach things that are often used.

#8 Excess Processing

This often occurs due to the creation of multiple versions of the same task, process more than is required or long-winded poorly designed processes. Examples include:

  • Excessive reports
  • Multiple signatures
  • Re-entering data and duplicated data
  • Lack of standards
  • Poor communication
  • Overdesigned equipment
  • Misunderstanding of the customer’s needs
  • Human error

All of these unnecessarily increase your costs, time and resources. You must first examine and map your organization to analyze the processes in order to fix them. Standardize processes, empower employees and eliminate unnecessary documentation, sign-off processes and meetings.

Systematic elimination of these wastes can result in faster processes, lower costs, higher quality, happier workers and, most importantly, happier customers.

Frank Voehl

Frank Voehl is the President and CEO of Strategy Associates and an Author and Series Editor of more than forty books covering the subjects of quality, innovation, change and business-cycle management. He is a former Chief Operating Officer and founding General Manager of FPL's Qualtec Quality Services, a Grand Master Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma, and a counselor/advisor to business and industry since 1985, both in the public and private sector. His academic background is in industrial engineering, math, philosophy, and law. He received his undergraduate degree from St. John's University, and did some graduate and theological studies. He is currently enrolled in the FSU/JMI Entrepreneurial Development Studies Program, and is a Senior Mentor with Take Stock in Children.