Getting Rid of Waste

Of course, not all waste can be eliminated. Sometimes waste is caused by regulation or legislation, sometimes it is an unavoidable by-product of a particular process, and it is almost impossible to eradicate all mistakes. However, this should not stop you from trying - except where the cost of eliminating waste might cost more than dealing with it. So you should try and eliminate waste - and where you can't, you should minimise it.

To eliminate waste (in all of the seven categories we mentioned in the Article �Waste Not!�), you first have to find it.

The opposite of waste-producing activity is value-adding activity ... any activity which changes a product or service in some way which makes it more attractive to the end-customer .. and makes the end-customer more ready to pay for it.

In fact one of the basic principles on which lean thinking is based is:

Add nothing but value

....... Carry out a Waste Scan

A basic approach is a waste scan. Simply go around looking at all the processes that are used to deliver the product or service and look for signs of each of the seven wastes.

Why is that being moved?

What is that stack of boxes for?

Why is that person walking over there?

Why was that thrown away?

Sometimes - to show what such a scan uncovers - it is useful to go around with stickers or tags and simple stick or fasten one to any identified 'waste'. This makes the scan more visible.

Once waste has been identified, the way in which the process (or that part of it marked with a tag) works must be challenged.

Can you produce to order instead of for stock?

Can you move the components while the paint dries?

Can you give the operator a jig, fixture, special tools or different software to make the work easier?

Can you move these two workstations nearer to each other?

Why do you do it like that? Why does that person/team do it?

This last line of questions is always worth asking. Often the answer is "Because we always have done". But there is almost always another way - and in many cases, one of those other ways might be better.

Here is a list of simple things that can be done to minimise waste ... the kinds of things that should arise from asking - and answering - the questions above.

� Design production lines and materials flow paths to minimise the distances between workstations and temporary storage sites.

� Schedule and produce only what can be immediately sold/shipped.

� Align work processes so that the output of one goes straight into another without any waiting.

� Maintain all machinery and equipment to consistent schedules.

� Reduce process/machine set-up and changeover times.

� Design work activities and work spaces so that employees do not need to stretch, bend, or walk around to get the tools or materials that they need

� Ensure all staff are fully trained and understand the processes they are a part of.

� Ensure that staff have all the information they need to carry out their work effectively and efficiently.

� Redesign layouts to create 'production cells' where people, equipment and information are brought together to complete a process without the transport, inventory and waiting associated with more 'traditional' functional clustering.

� Implement a quality regime that encourages (and perhaps even rewards) a 'right first time' culture.

� Avoid incentive schemes (particularly for salesmen) which encourage staff to 'get the numbers into this accounting period'.

So, eliminating waste is a fairly obvious thing to do. It doesn't need any special techniques ... just someone with an inquisitive and critical eye to take a look at what is going on, ask a few questions and identify potential areas of waste. It then needs someone (perhaps but not necessarily the same person) to work with the organisation - and preferably the workers themselves - to work out ways of doing things differently.

The rewards can be quite large. Eliminating (or minimising waste) means your organisation uses:

Less capital equipment (and saves money)

Less floor space (and saves money)

Less operator effort (and saves money)

Less inventory (and saves money)

Less lead time (and makes your customers happier).


Productivity is my 'bag' ... it is what I know about. I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science - and Director of the National Productivity Centre in the UK - go to this site for some good free resources and some (paid for but low price) e-learning on productivity. I also edit the International Journal of Productivity & Performance Management. My views on productivity and on learning (which I think are related) are su...

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