10 Wastes of Lean

How to Easily Identify the 10 Wastes of Lean

The 10 Wastes of Lean

Customer value is determined by what they are willing to pay for.  At its most simplistic, waste in the Lean context is any element in a process that isn’t adding value for the customer of that process.

Value and waste are inextricably linked.  Eliminating waste is a means to achieving the optimum Lean environment.  That said, it is a means to an end.  We believe that preventing waste is as important as eliminating it.

What does Lean Waste mean?

One of the founding fathers of Lean Manufacturing, Taiichi Ohno, famously identified 7 wastes.  These are known as Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-Processing, Over-Production and Defects. These were later captured into the mnemonic TIM WOOD.

Over time, this list has been expanded to include other categories of waste.  These are pertinent to manufacturing and service sector environments.  From our experience of working with a cross-section of Start-Up, SME, and larger organisations, including Pharmaceutical, Financial and Retail businesses, we have included 3 additional wastes.  We use the acronym TIGERWOODS.

In this blog, we summarise these 10 categories and give some Lean waste examples.

1. Transport

Transport refers to any movement of materials, products and documentation that does not add value for the customer.  Typically, customers are not willing to pay for unnecessary transport.  Excessive movement can incur extra costs for space, machinery, and time, as well as negatively impact quality.

Lean Waste Examples

Double handling of goods, movement of paperwork, multiple hand-offs of electronic data, approvals, excessive email attachments and distributing unnecessary cc copies to people who don’t really need to know.

2. Inventory

There are three types of inventory; raw material, work in progress and finished goods. Waste occurs when the supply of any of these exceeds the immediate demand.

Lean Waste Examples

Purchasing or making things before they are needed. Things waiting in an inbox, unread email and all forms of batch processing create inventory.

Lean Wastes People Talent LeanTeams

3. Customer Service

Customers are the reason organisations, departments and functions exist.  We are either providing good or services. Customer service includes any contact with the customer, face to face, in writing (email, letter, text invoice, etc), in product or service presentation. Failure to meet and or exceed customer expectations is a wasted opportunity.  Quality and satisfying customer demand is a key principle in Lean Thinking.  Furthermore, we believe that it is therefore critical that we take this into account when categorising waste.

Lean Waste Examples

Making a poor first impression, disengaged staff, not responding to requests in a timely manner, poor and inaccurate written communications, issuing incorrect invoices.

4. Ergonomics

This kind of waste refers to unnecessary movements by employees (or machinery).  They can cause injuries and extended production time.  Many of these issues are covered in Health & Safety legislation.  More recently, businesses focus on Workplace health and wellbeing to address these challenges.

Lean Waste Examples

Persistent turning, reaching, bending, or stretching to complete a task, or getting up or walking across badly spaced workstations. Wasted time accessing information or data on poorly organised systems.

5. Repeat Communication

When we are repeating ourselves, we are losing.  Having to repeat a communication whether it is a request for a response, or an instruction is a sign that some element of that communication is not fit for purpose.  What is more critical in terms of waste is the non-value -add time and effort it takes for the parties involved in that communication. Both the sender and receiver are giving up the precious resource of time when they are engaged in repeating a communication. As a result, this causes delays and increases lead times.

Lean Waste Examples

Unclear instructions leading to errors or needing further clarification. Incomplete forms. Additional emails, letters, calls, or post.

6. Waiting

Waiting is probably one of the wastes that is most easily recognised, whether it be ‘Workers waiting for Work or Work waiting for workers’. When operators, administrators, analysts, technicians, testers are waiting for work, it is waste.  Conversely, when the work is waiting for any of these people in a process, it is waste. Whether the waiting is for components in an assembly area or queuing at a coffee machine, it should be acknowledged that this is not the optimal situation.  Indeed, we should ask questions as to what aspect of the process needs to be altered to bring about an improvement.

Lean Waste Examples

Time delays, idle time, waiting for a response, materials or documents waiting in a queue, bottlenecks, queueing to access machines or waiting for a machine to complete its cycle.

Lean Wastes Inventory LeanTeams

7. Over-Production

Over-Production is making more than is necessary, or making too much, too soon or ‘just-in-case’.  In fact, it could be argued that over-production is the most serious of wastes.  Why?  Because it impacts on many of the other wastes.  Over-Production drives costs and impacts negatively on quality.  People tend to over-produce to be safe, in case of errors, failures in supply chain or increased demand.  Instead, the focus should be on accurately forecasting demand and getting it ‘right first time’. Making what is needed when its needed

Lean Waste Examples

Batch sizes that are too large, carrying large volumes of unsold stock, necessity for large storage areas to hold stock, stock becoming obsolete as customer requirements change, excessive transport, damaged stock. Producing reports that are not read.

8. Over-Processing

Over-Processing is the term used to describe any process or task that is over complicated by non-value add steps.  It tends to occur when people haven’t taken the time to understand the requirements of the customer.  In addition, it happens when we give inadequate thought as to how the steps in the process are meeting these requirements.  This is closely linked to the absence of Standard Work and a systematic review of the standard, i.e., the absence of a Continuous Improvement mindset.

Lean Waste Examples

Relying on inspections, rather than designing the process to eliminate errors. Re-entering data into multiple information systems, using logbooks just in case, making extra copies, generating unused reports, and unnecessarily cumbersome processes, signatures that are not used or necessary.

9. Defects or Errors

Defects or errors occur when a product or service isn’t ‘fit for purpose’.  It happens when it does not meet the customers’ expectations, or compliance standards.  Clearly, this is a waste of resources and effort.  We never want to pass defective products or incorrect information onto the next stage in the process. Reworking adds costs that customers will not be paying for and will impact negatively on margin. Similarly, scrapping defective produce will have a negative impact on an organisation’s margin.

Lean Waste Examples

Rejected orders or complaints, reworking errors, dealing with complaints and the reputational fall-out of mistakes.  In extreme cases defects can result in injury or death to a person.

Lean Wastes in pharmaceutical organisations

10. Skills

This refers to the waste of untapped human potential.  When organisations don’t engage all the talents of all the people – their business experts – they are ignoring one of the most valuable resources available to them.  Failure to involve the people who are doing the actual work in conversations about how the business can be improved, can lead to disengagement, demotivation and ultimately attrition or worse remaining and being disengaged.

Lean Waste Examples

Not asking, not listening, not having forums for sharing ideas, thinking that only senior people have the answers, not offering CPD or succession opportunities, absence of recognition of continuous improvement initiatives.

Waste will vary from sector to sector, and from business to business, even function to function.  The examples above are intended to get you thinking about the processes you spend time doing every day.


Organisations can set themselves up for greater success when the mindset of every person is to ask following questions:

  • ‘’Is this task adding value for the customer of this process’’?
  • ‘’Why are we doing things this way’’?
  • ‘’What can we do to improve this process?’’

When everyone in your organisation has a full understanding and appreciation of the value and non-value add tasks in their process, they are recognising Waste.

When you take the next step and categorise the wastes, you have an opportunity to take action to prevent or eliminate them.  Categorising also assists you in identifying the necessary and unnecessary wastes in your processes and where there is potential for improvement.  Finally, it assists you in making more informed decisions that will impact the profitability and sustainability of your business.

This blog post was written by Martina Murphy, Lean Business Trainer & Mentor.  You can view her profile and watch a video of Martina talking about Lean here.  If you would like help with identifying and eliminating the Lean wastes in your organisation, please contact us.

We hope you enjoyed reading about how to identify the 10 wastes of Lean.  You may also be interested in reading our articles on why companies are turning to online experiential learning for training & development and 9 signs your business processes are broken.  All our blogs are available to read here.  To keep up-to-date with all our new, subscribe to our newsletter.  Please connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter

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