Waste in an organization is all around us. You want to be able to identify waste so that you can go about eliminating it where you can. This article will explore the most common sources of waste in any organization, explore the benefits of identifying and eliminating waste, and then present some best practices for undertaking this effort.

Overview: What are the 7 Wastes of Lean? 

One corporate executive is fond of saying, “Waste is all around us, yet we walk by it every day.” A popular acronym that is used to describe the 7 most commonly identified wastes is TIMWOOD. In Japanese, Muda is the word for Waste. Some people are using another version of TIMWOOD called TIMWOODS that adds Skills (or the failure to use people’s skills) to improve the organization. This changes the 7 wastes of lean to the 8 wastes of lean

The original 7 wastes were described by Taiichi Ohno, the Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS)

Those 7 wastes are:

  1. Transportation: The unnecessary moving around of material, people, and equipment often resulting in wasted time and possible damage.
  2. Inventory: Excessive inventory that takes up valuable space, requires resources to manage it and ties up capital dollars.
  3. Motion: Unnecessary and dangerous movement that can cause harm to people, damage to equipment, or defects in the product. This is different from Transportation since, in the case of people, we are talking about the ergonomic issues rather than the mere relocation of them.
  4. Waiting: The waste of time waiting for people, equipment, materials, and information to arrive so that you can do your work.
  5. Overproduction: Producing more than the customer or your process needs results in excess inventory and all the expenses described above under Inventory.
  6. Overprocessing: Doing more than the customer wants, needs, or is willing to pay for.
  7. Defects: The production of a defective product or delivery of service will require either a rework or a scraping of the product. The customer will not pay for either.

3 benefits of identifying the 7 wastes of lean 

The same executive mentioned above with regards to waste being all around us also said that, “If you don’t call Waste what it really is, you will never eliminate it.” 

1. Improves process performance 

By identifying the 7 wastes and eliminating them, you improve your productivity and process performance because you are not wasting time or resources.

2. Creates a common definition and description of waste 

By using the acronym TIMWOOD, everyone in the organization can view and define the various wastes in common terms. This reduces any miscommunication as to what you are talking about when pointing out that something is indeed a waste.

3. The wastes focus on the functioning of the process and not on the people 

There will be less resistance and defensiveness from your employees if waste is perceived as a process issue rather than a people issue.

Why are the 7 wastes of lean important to understand?

After working in a process for a while, people often become immune to waste because they start to believe it is “just the way we do things” here at XYZ Corporation.

1. As long as waste exists in an organization, it will be underperforming compared to its potential

If you learn to accept waste as the way you do business, you will be wasting resources and capacity and may jeopardize the well being of the organization.

2. Employees are aware of the waste and can feel frustrated by it 

An abundance of waste in an organization will create a frustrating environment for the people doing the work. It can also create an unsafe place to work. 

3. Waste will impact the quality of the product and service 

Because waste has the tendency to affect your product or service, it could also affect your customer. Nothing will lose you a customer faster than a poor product or service. Eliminate the waste, and you will likely be able to satisfy your customer to a higher degree. 

An industry example of the 7 wastes of lean 

The 7 wastes of lean are descriptive in nature and not necessarily an actionable activity. But, some organizations have used the 7 wastes of lean as a template to audit their organizational processes to provide a framework for improvement.  

As an example, a laboratory at a pharmaceutical manufacturer used TIMWOOD as a template to evaluate its internal processes. The laboratory department head was charged with observing her operations and evaluating the department tasks against the framework of TIMWOOD. 

No one was surprised, especially the people doing the work, that there was extensive transportation waste when materials, paperwork, people, and equipment moved from location to location in the lab. When they checked the cabinets, they saw an excess inventory of beakers, tubes, and chemicals. Some of the employees complained about having to reach, bend, and stretch for supplies, so motion was an issue, too. 

They also found that people were waiting for other departments and QC to provide information and samples. There was overproduction of solutions used for the lab tests that were subsequently tossed out. They also wondered why there were so many inspections, checks, and audits of things — or overprocessing — for which the customer certainly wasn’t paying. And finally, it was obvious that there were errors and defects repeatedly occurring in the documentation.

Once senior leadership saw all the opportunities, they put together an improvement team of lab technicians and tasked them with recommending improvements to eliminate as much of the waste as they could.

3 best practices when thinking about the 7 wastes of lean 

Everyone hates waste, but until you confront it, little will be done to eliminate it. Here are a few best practices that will help you.

  1. Be sure that everyone has the same understanding of the definition of TIMWOOD. Be sure to provide a clear definition of the terms, and provide clear and relevant examples of each so everyone is on the same page. 
  2. Tackle the issue of resistance and defensiveness upfront. Make it clear that you are not attacking any individual and saying that what they do is a waste. Point out that waste is the result of process design rather than incompetence or lack of caring on the part of any one employee. 
  3. Don’t take on everything at once. Evaluating a process for all possible wastes can be daunting. To begin, pick one or two to reduce or eliminate. This will show your team that waste can be reduced and eliminated and that the organization is committed to creating a better working environment for employees. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the 7 wastes of lean

What are the elements of TIMWOOD?

Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, and Defects. 

Is there a difference between TIMWOOD and TIMWOODS?

Yes. The S in TIMWOODS refers to the waste associated with not using the Skills of your people to help improve the process. 

Can the 7 wastes of lean be applied to non-manufacturing organizations?

Absolutely. Waste exists in all organizations, and the 7 wastes can be identified and eliminated in any type of organization.

On a final note: The 7 wastes of lean 

The 7 wastes of lean exist in every organization and are all around you. You walk by it every day and can become desensitized to its existence, but waste can create a frustrating and unsafe work environment for your employees. 

It is your responsibility to stop ignoring its existence and failing to call it what it is: waste. While it’s not always easy or possible to eliminate all waste, it is simple enough for you and your organization to evaluate the things you do and identify and define the various types of waste described by TIMWOOD. So, stop wasting time and start looking.

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