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  • andiehallihan

Where is the Waste?

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

Ohno shared so much of the most important insight to improving performance - including finding and eliminating waste. Yet sometimes some people can only see small bits of waste from their perspective. How can we change perspective to bring more of the waste into focus?

Most people can recall some or all of various mnemonics that identify the seven wastes, such as TIMWOOD. Less spoken about are Waste's relatives - Unevenness and Overburden. As well as changing the viewpoint to see the waste, they often predict the presence of wastes and indicate their root causes.

A company logs 80% of all sales for their custom engineered systems in weeks 12 and 13 each quarter. That's interesting! It happens every quarter. That isn't seasonal. It's a global company with sales in every major trading block. What is shared across all of these? Turns out that salespeople are rewarded based on quarterly sales and push hard to register sales before the close of the period - sitting on some orders and rushing others to meet the deadline.

So what effect does that have on the Engineering department? Feast and famine - or perhaps overload that we get under control before it gets overloaded next quarter. Sometimes specifications of requirements are seriously incomplete - which lead to later surprises. Procurement? Operations? Peaks, troughs, shortages, unexpected requirements emerging late in the process, and others.

Through custom and practice we learn to cope. Engineering demands a 10-week leadtime - of which 8-9 weeks of sitting in the queue and 1-2 weeks of work, leading to the late issue of drawings and requirements onto Purchasing. Then Purchasing and Operations replicate that pattern to give the quoted leadtime of 20 weeks. But value stream mapping shows we can design and build in 2-4 weeks!

Examples are everywhere. The clinics that have 50% of patients arrive to occupy the very first slot. Maybe it feels like we need an additional receptionist as it is very busy. And it certainly feels busy because we made it seem busy. The ward round that hangs onto scripts until the end of the round then sends them altogether in one batch to pharmacy, so we think we need more pharmacists whilst healthy patients tie up beds waiting to acquire infections and cancelling operations as there is nowhere for the next patient.

Uneveness drives people to try and level demand. The favourite approach is to spread the work over a longer period to take the worst out of the peaks (or troughs). Overburden pushes suppliers, equipment and people to breaking point, increasing delivery failures, quality problems (with that variable decision making we see when we are in proximity to deadlines), breakdowns, absence and worse. People clearly recall the times when they are over-run with work (sometimes forgetting the quieter times) and the sustained perception is that we need more people.

If you can't see the waste, look for the Unevenness and the Overburden. Follow their consequences. Planning cycles, decision reviews, behaviour at the start or end of budget periods, managing breaks, and on and on.

More often than not - there is good news. When people look for the origin of Unevenness and Overburden, very often they find it was created or accentuated within their own organisation - typically in a decision we took at some point in the past long before we realised the unintended consequences. That is a great place to make change happen.

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