Ina recent blog post, I mentioned a Waste Walk – and got a few queries about what that is. I see that I have assumed that everyone’s lean toolkit has the same tools, so I apologize for my assumption! Here’s some more information.

Most lean approaches use a list of7 or 8 wastes to describe the typical non-value-added activities that can be seen in a work environment. I believe the original list contained 7 wastes, not necessarily in this order:

Waiting, Overproduction, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Over-processing, Defects

To which some lean experts have added an eighth waste, “under-utilization,” meaning, people doing work that is non-value-added for them, such as doctors transporting patients or VPs fixing copy machines. Sometimes this is called “Source” or “Resource” waste

To do a “waste walk,” then, is to walk the gemba (work area) and look for these wastes in a structured way. For example, I have a form that lists the 8 wastes in the order of the acronym we are using to remember them (WISDOMTO with “S” standing for source waste -I’ve also seen DOWNTIME and U-WIT-D-MOP among other acronyms). We have the team walk through the physical work area and identifying the wastes they observe, with the checklist as a reminder of the wastes. For example:

Waiting: Are there items or people in wait mode? Is there too much dependency on others to complete a task? Are there delays in process steps? Are there delays in communication steps?

And so forth. The form I use is adapted from Don Tapping’s lean references (disclosure: I have worked with Don on a healthcare-lean book; but receive no compensation for sales, I did it for the glory!) and you can access his materials at

Now, I’ve also seen it used in a virtual way, which I learned from Karen Kusler at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Lean University. She had her teams develop a detailed value stream map, and then walk through the map one waste at a time. For example, look at the process flow and just identify where there is any WAITING waste. Then, go through again and identify any TRANSPORTATION waste, etc. This method was very productive when the team couldn’t easily do an actual walk due to the distances involved between process steps, or time factors.

So that’s the concept of the waste walk, and some of the ways I’ve used it. The teams then use the list to identify potential opportunities for improvement before narrowing to the wastes that will be addressed in the project.

I would love to hear if anyone has used a similar tool, what adaptations you have made to it, and how it has worked for you.

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