Once you get on the trail of waste out in the wilds of your production system (service, retail or manufacturing), you are going to find literally hundreds of examples of waste.  It’s too much to hold in your head so you need a simple way to find, measure it and record it for later prioritised removal.  This is a yellow belt approach to these tasks. It is the second article in this series on waste.

There is a huge body of knowledge about finding and measure waste.  It mainly comes from the work done originally by Henry Ford to bring production line techniques to car production.  More recently, and patterned on Ford’s pioneering work, Toyota expanded the knowledge base.

Now this knowledge is folded into the concept named Lean Management.

Along with all this work, came a whole industry of increasing complexity designed to squeeze waste to death.  The programs go on for years and involve incredible amount of staff-hours.  

The body of knowledge most associated with waste removal has a Japanese name, Kaizen which stands for Continuous Improvement (pronounced Kar-zen). 
Go to the article: How Kaizen leads to Continuous Incremental Improvement

At our Yellow Belt level, advanced Kaizen is overkill.  This article outlines an approach that any smaller business unit should be able to use quickly and effectively.

Our Goal Here

Our Yellow Belt goal is to do this fairly quickly because we are looking for rapid improvement by choosing the so-called ‘low hanging fruit’ first.

As much as anything, we want to prove to ourselves and the staff that the process is worthwhile.  Once proven, we are in a better position to decide when (and if) to escalate the documentation of waste to Blue Belt level.

What Waste

For this reason, we suggest you focus on capturing details of waste of the following types;

  1. Focus on the waste at the ‘constraint / bottleneck” in each of your production lines. 
    Go to the Skills Module introduction: Theory of Constraints (TOC)
  2. Remember to work on both factory/retail and administration systems because office waste can be very substantial
  3. Of the three general type of waste, Productive, Non-productive but Necessary and Unproductive, we are most interested in the waste that improves productivity.
  4. But any waste that might be costing a lot in expenses or lost productivity is important.  We are looking for the 20% of wastes that contribute 80% of the wastage. 
    Go to the Skills Module introduction: SM2.0 80/20 Sales Growth; Double Sales, Triple Profits

 Who Does the Searching

There is no doubt that, in the longer term, you want everyone in the business to be on the lookout for waste and to be actively involved in reporting and reducing it.

There is also no doubt that, for waste reduction to work, you have to be seen to be totally committed to it personally and permanently.  This is not negotiable.

Experts say that were the ‘boss’ does not lead from the front on waste reduction, it almost always fails to take on as a regular business process.

At this early stage when you know little about how to go about the process, it might be most useful if you do the searching yourself.  Your staff will see your commitment and you will be teaching yourself in preparation for later teaching your staff based on the hands on experience you have gained.

If your business is large enough, you might find another enthusiastic staff member to work with you because two minds are certainly better than one.  This person might later take over a waste reduction leadership role.

Identifying Waste

In the first article on the Eight Types of Waste, you were introduced to all the types that you will need to develop an eye to spotting.
Return to the article: SM4.1 Eight Types of Waste

Some of these you might be able to remember or guess at from your previous work on the systems in the business.

But quickly you will find you need to do what is known in the Lean industry by the Japanese word Gemba (pronounce Gem-bar); you need to get out and about when hunting for waste.  This same advice moved into American management literature as MBWA (Management By Walking About)

In your initial passes through your “waste management” program on your business it probably suffices to use your powers of observation to find them. 

However, a sensible manager will attempt to actively involve their front-line staff in this process because if anybody has any idea where things are inefficient, it will be the people who do this every day of the week.

Unfortunately, in many businesses, staff have not been trained and encouraged to provide feedback on waste and it might take some time to get them into the routine of advising when they do come across a cause of waste.  Good staff may have learned to manage waste by implementing work-arounds that they may not even realise they have done “because its always been done this way”. This is the equivalent of someone with one arm learning to manage that unfortunate situation.  It doesn’t mean that one arm is better; they are just making do with what they have.

Managers will need to learn to dig beneath superficial reasons for activities being undertaken and learn to encourage and facilitate the staff learning to take responsibility for giving feedback on waste.

To cover the ground in a systematic way, you might imagine yourself at the mouth of a river where it meets the see.  This is the point where the customer takes the finished product way.

Then work your way back up the ‘river’ passing each stage of the process along the way and looking at wastes associated with what stage.

From time to time, you will have other ‘creeks’ joining your river as several production systems come together and/or an administrative process is engaged.  

This flow of effort is known technically as a “Value Stream” because it is the flow of increasing value to the product that the customer eventually gets.  Every step should increase the value of of the production system else it is waste that you should be recording.

Recording Identified Waste

We suggest a spreadsheet and ideally one like Google Sheets that several people can access simultaneously without mixing up everyone’s data.  Being in the cloud also allows you to work on desktop, iPad and mobile phones so you can do data entry in the field.

As an extension to this, you can use a user friendly Google Form set-up which will drop the completed forms into a spreadsheet for you.

You record one problem per line in the spreadsheet.

What to record

What you record is up to you but, a few suggestions include;

  • The location of the problem.  If a lot of information is collected from one location, you could open a special tab in the spreadsheet for every location if you want to manage them somewhat separately.
  • The nature of it
  • The name of the operator nearest and with the most knowledge about you to improve the problem
  • Maybe a photo inserted into the spreadsheet if relevant
  • Some indication of the cost arising from the waste.  Maybe score it 1 (very low) to 10 (very high).  Note that a small cost repeated many times will add up so, when considering cost, consider if for (e.g.) a month and rank everything on the same score
  • The ease of fixing – 1 low and 10 high.
  • People who are knowledgeable about the problem/solution so you can use their knowledge
  • Some possible remedies that have already occurred to you while inspecting the problem
  • The “cycle time” which is how long it actually takes to do the job once you start.  If you pick the task up and put it down several times before completing, that is waste, so record each step separately.
  • The “lead time” which is the time from when the last person put the job down after completing your part of the operation and the time this person puts it down having completed their part of the operation.  Cycle time is typically much shorter than lead time so you have uncovered as probably waste all the time difference between lead time minus cycle time.  If it takes 1 minute to do the step (cycle time) and the product has a 3 hour lead time, 2 hours and 59 minutes are waste time that could be reduced to speed up production. 
  • If you notice a number of ‘defects’ at any particular stage, that can help to later find, then get rid of, the problem causing the defects.  Defects are anything that is wrong and has to be redone to some extent to fix the problem.  In a factory, it might be scratches.  In an office, it might be incorrect data entered into software.  While doing your Gemba, it might be a handy step to place red bins to hold anything that is a defect.  The red bin catches peoples eye.  Putting it into the bin means you can go back in a day or so and see what is the the bin.  It also means that the defect does not continue down the production line causing more and more loss of value as it proceeds.
  • In other places, we talk about reducing the size of large batches of throughput in your production system.  We will address why elsewhere.  Here, it might be worth you also recording in your spreadsheet the normal batch size that goes through the system  For example, you might do a batch of 500 once a machine is set up to produce the item.  Or you might batch accounts to pay and do them every Friday.  Count and record the size of a typical batch of payments.
  • Inventory and Work-in-progress (WIP).  If these are large, they are a classic indication of an area of waste that might be capable of reduction
  • You might wish to record each step along the way with a reference number. If this is your second Value Stream, the references can start with 2.0.  Then, as you swim upstream, each time you come to a branch (creek), you can give it an ID to reflect the routing.  So, 2.3.4 is the fourth step in the third branch of the second value stream.

You may be thinking to yourself that this is a lot of information to collect and is it all worthwhile.  You probably are not going to use it all the first time through this process but it will give you some baseline data so you have some idea of the numbers and operations involved in your business flows.  At other times and places in 12Faces, you can use this preliminary data to give you some idea of the next direction.

A Visual ByProduct

If you do this waste walking well, you will have also described the Value Stream(s) for your business.  You can draw this up as a bit of a flowchart for all staff to see.  Chances are they have never seen the way the product flows down the entire Value Stream “river” and might find it very interesting.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

There is a great deal of “homework” flowing out of this Skills Module.

We have both Yellow Belt and Blue Belt tools to help you manage this overload. Refer to them if you need some help. 
Go to the Leaders Briefing: LB4: Getting Stuff Done When There is Lots

Coming Up Next

This article, SM4.2 Capturing Waste in the Wild, has covered the process of converting your knowledge about the several types of waste covered in SM4.1 Eight Types of Waste. You can now use the conversion data to actually begin to reduce waste.
SM4.3 Prioritising Waste Removal to decide what waste to focus on for removal (next article).
SM4.4 Office Kaizen – Waste in Offices and Service Industries: will cover people wastes, process waste, information waste and asset waste.


A useful Yellow Belt level book is “Lean for Dummies” which is pitched at our Yellow Belt level.  There are many, many other, more advanced books, that cover the topic. 

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