The Seven Wastes

I’ve been fascinated with all things Japanese since I was a kid. Perhaps it was the martial arts (Judo, Jiu-jitsu, and Kendo) or that soothing sensation I used to feel after studying a chapter (Koan) from a book on Zen Buddhism, I was in love with the culture. And as I grew older, I delved deeper into business concepts of the East, most profoundly Kaizen or constant and never-ending improvement.

Kaizen further led me to read up on the fascinating world of Toyota and Honda, particularly their business philosophy and how they approach manufacturing and value creation for their customers. If you dig deeper, you’ll realise it’s a whole new world by itself! Don’t worry, we won’t go that deep in this post, but I couldn’t help but share a sub-concept that I’m reviewing these days — the seven wastes (or muda, in Japanese) of manufacturing.

They’re the following:

  1. Overproduction — producing way more than what’s required. Although not intentional, customers’ needs almost always change during the course of producing a large batch of products. And by that time massive amounts of money, time, and energy have been invested. Possibly, the worst kind of waste!
  2. Waiting — a large part of a product’s life is spent waiting for the next production step. This is counterproductive and adds up to a massive figure over a period of time.
  3. Unnecessary transport or conveyance — fiddling with products (moving or transporting them) unnecessarily adds to the cost without adding any value to the product. Which means the customer will not be paying for the additional cost. In our world, this could be “over-supervision.”
  4. Over-processing or incorrect processing — resulting from doing more than what’s required to be done, which again, adds to the total time and cost. Why does it happen? The production team didn’t understand the scope of work in the first place! Or they forgot to ask, “is this absolutely necessary?”
  5. Excess Inventory — I like Wikipedia’s definition for this — Whether in the form of raw materials, work-in-progress (WIP), or finished goods, represents a capital outlay that cannot yet produce an income. The longer a product sits in one of these states, the more it contributes to waste. The smooth, continuous flow of work through each process ensures excess amounts of inventory are minimized.
  6. Unnecessary motion — for both people and equipment moving or working more than needed to perform the job. The wear and tear for equipment, strain of workers, or unnecessary downtime adds to the costs.
  7. Defects — The efforts involved in inspecting for and fixing defects. And defects or rework always delays timelines and adds to the total cost. It’s far efficient to get it right the first time.

While these principles apply to companies using the lean manufacturing methodologies, they can very well work for small teams that focus on critical outcomes impacting businesses. Yes, there’s a lot of adaptations to be had but the core remains the same as the principles are clearly universal.

How do you think you can adapt these in your professional world?

P.S. I revisited this fascinating presentation by Dr. Jeffery Liker on “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” for more insights:

The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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