The 7 Deadly Wastes of Lean

At its core, the School of Lean looks at how we eliminate “waste centers” in the workplace to improve business outcomes—whether it’s slashing expenses, eliminating errors, or improving delivery times—so that you can deliver more value to your end-consumer.

While the general concept of improving conditions by getting rid of waste is pretty self-explanatory, Lean defines waste in more expansive terms than the average person, who might associate the term with uneaten food, excessive packaging, or reckless spending.

While the 7 Deadly Wastes were initially defined within the context of manufacturing, learning to effectively identify and eliminate waste offers all businesses an opportunity to improve performance. Let’s look at the 7 Deadly Wastes of Lean—we’ll explain exactly what it is that makes them so deadly.

What Are the 7 Deadly Wastes?

Lean’s seven (sometimes eight) wastes, or Muda, play a central role in Lean ideology, dating all the way back to the Toyota Production System days. The idea is that by identifying waste, employees have a starting point for optimizing processes so that they deliver more value to your consumers.

These 7 types of waste represent the barriers that keep your organization from realizing its full potential.

  1. Defects. Defective or broken parts that need to be reworked or completely redone.

  2. Inventory. Hanging onto excessive inventory isn’t a form of supply chain insurance—it’s a liability.

  3. Processing. Processing waste refers to any work that doesn’t contribute to the value stream, such as wasting resources on developing software features no one will use. Long-term, processing can eat into profit margins, forcing organizations to charge more for products and services that customers aren’t willing to pay for.

  4. Waiting. Waiting, as you might imagine, describes the time lost waiting for a critical delivery to arrive, downtime caused by machine repairs, or waiting on approvals before a process can move forward.

  5. Transportation. Transportation waste refers to the excessive movement of resources such as raw materials or equipment that doesn’t provide value and may end up causing damage to your resources, wasting time, or increasing expenses (think storage fees and parking).

  6. Motion. Not to be confused with transportation waste, motion refers to the unnecessary movement of people or equipment, which can cause injuries or waste time. Examples include attending unnecessary meetings or a poorly-organized work environment that makes it difficult for employees to find what they need.

  7. Overproduction. Overproduction waste refers to the waste generated when you produce more product than you can sell.

  8. Bonus Waste: Skills. Number 8 on a list of 7, skills represent the “newest” deadly waste, which refers to losses suffered due to unused employee potential.

Deadly Waste Meaning

In the context of Lean, “waste” describes any activity that uses company resources but fails to generate value on the consumer side. Within this framework, it’s important to note that value is subjective and ever-changing, defined by what the customer is willing to pay for based on current needs.

Valuable activities include steps that ensure customers receive high-quality products, quick delivery, consistent service, reasonable costs, or anything else with a direct impact on the overall experience a company offers.

Avoiding the 7 Deadly Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

It’s important to note that each of the wastes outlined above is defined differently based on industry or role. For example, in marketing, software development, or other types of knowledge work, most waste is generated in a digital environment, such as unnecessary task switching or inefficient approval flows that may cause delays.

Avoiding waste in manufacturing presents some unique challenges as you’re dealing with physical goods, production equipment, and the logistics of shipping and receiving, as well as the internal workflows that take place in cyberspace.

For manufacturers, taking on the 7 Wastes of Lean is a coordinated effort involving the entire organization and several moving parts that must work together. Otherwise, there’s the risk that one waste center will generate waste in other areas—and potentially cause some real damage.

How to Practice the 7 Wastes of Lean

The first step toward eliminating waste is learning to identify it, and from there, developing a systematic process for resolving issues as they emerge.

What’s nice about the 7 Wastes of Lean is that they are accessible to everyone within the organization. You’ll want to make an effort to involve the entire team in the process, gathering suggestions from the frontline workers, marketing team, service desk, C-suite, and so on.

Over time, identifying and eliminating waste will become a routine practice. And, as employees begin seeing the impact of their efforts and experiencing improvements first-hand, they’ll become more confident in their problem-solving abilities and more invested in the process.

Gemba Academy’s 7 Deadly Wastes course introduces each deadly waste, explains what causes them, and provides a realistic picture of what they can cost your organization. We’ll also show you how to eliminate waste with tools like 5S and Kanban. Watch the first video free to find out more about the course content.


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