Lean & Operational Excellence

Lean 8 Wastes

1. Defects

Defects occur when the product or service doesn’t meet customer requirements. This typically results in repairing, reworking or scrapping the product. None of these outcomes are good, as they add additional costs to the organization without delivering any value to the customer. Additionally, you not only have to spend extra time remaking the defective product, but you now must also figure out how to make the other products/services you had slated for that time slot.

2. Overproduction

Overproduction is when you make more of something than what is needed/wanted. This is common when setups are long (see our Setup reduction page) – there’s a tendency to want to make large quantities of products when “things are running good”. Likewise, if downstream processes are unreliable, there’s a tendency to overproduce “Just In Case” something goes awry later. In cases when that doesn’t happen, you’re left with some extra “good” product, which invariably winds up on a shelf somewhere, waiting for the day that it gets ordered (assuming you even remember that you have it).  Working that way leads a host of problems:

  • Prevents flow
  • Higher storage costs / excess obsolete inventory
  • Opportunities for large-scale defects being created
  • Excessive lead-time

3. Waiting

No one likes to wait, yet we do it in spades every day at work! The waste of waiting includes:

  • People waiting on material, equipment or information
  • Products or paperwork waiting in queue
  • Equipment breakdowns
  • Being late to meetings
  • Unsold Finished Goods
  • Uneven processes

When properly addressed/eliminated, products, services and information flow more freely from person to person and process to process. Gone are the days of “Hurry up and wait”.

4. Non-Utilized Talent

The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Gallup polls prove this – 67% of employees report feeling disengaged at work, and that number hasn’t changed much in decades. Every month, 3.5 million Americans quit their jobs, and not feeling engaged is the #1 reason they give for doing so. The best way to get people excited about coming to work is to allow them the opportunity to do what they do best – allowing them to exercise their talents to help move the organization forward.

5. Transportation

The Waste of Transportation includes movement of people, tools, inventory, equipment, or products from place to place. Moving things or people from place to place doesn’t add an value – it doesn’t bring the product or service any closer to being completed – it just brings them to the place where that will happen. At New England Lean, we’ll work with you to lay out your cell, office, area or plant to minimize this waste as much as possible, which will increase efficiency, throughput, and reduce inventory.

6. Inventory

Excessive inventory causes lots of problems for the entire organization. It takes up floor space, gets in the way, ties up cash, and increases the opportunity for accidents & defects. Sometimes, this is done with the best of intentions – if a supplier has a sale that employs “the more you buy, the more you save” methodology, sometimes people will buy way too much thinking that they’re actually saving the company money in the long term. Or, if a finicky machine is finally running well, there’s a propensity to just keep running it and building up inventory for later, when that machine acts up. Although the intent is correct, in the long run, it’s just not worth it. Trust us – we’ve thrown away more obsolete parts and supplies during a 5S event than we care to mention. In one case, we took seven 55-gallon garbage cans’ worth of obsolete files and storage cabinets out of 100 square foot office. In another event in 2019, we scrapped hundreds of pounds of wire that had initially been purchased in the 1980’s, and had just been hanging around since.

7. Motion

Motion waste is moving more than necessary when doing work. This includes walking, lifting, reaching, bending, stretching, and moving. The waste of motion adds to cycle times, which in turn leads to excessive lead times. Some examples of motion waste include:

  • Reaching for materials or tools
  • Readjusting a component
  • Sifting through a toolbox for the right size wrench, or through a stack of files for the right folder
  • Reaching across a workbench to get the right part or paperwork

Often, Motion just looks like work, but bear this in mind: Motion is a waste that makes you pay for it in every single thing you do that isn’t set up as efficiently as it should be. For every extra reach, bend or stretch, it adds to employee fatigue, which extends the time it takes to get work done, which ultimately effects the organization’s capacity and capability to meet customer demand.

8. Extra Processing

Extra Processing refers to doing more work, adding more components, or having more steps in a product or service than what is required by the customer. The analogy we use a lot is polishing cannon balls. No one cares how shiny a cannon ball is – they just care that it puts a big hole in whatever it was shot at.

In manufacturing Extra Processing can look like:

  • Using a higher precision equipment than necessary
  • Producing parts to a tighter tolerance than required
  • Using components with capacities beyond what is required
  • Running more analysis than needed
  • Adjusting a component after it has already been installed
  • Putting more functionality into a product than asked for


In the office, Extra Processing can include:

  • Generating more reports than needed, or reports with more detail than needed
  • Having unnecessary steps in a process
  • Requiring unnecessary signatures on a document
  • Double entry of data / manually entering duplicate info on different forms
  • Requiring more forms than needed


This waste does cost companies real money. In one case, a client of ours had a blueprint tolerance that was much tighter than what the customer cared about. This discrepancy lead to a welder spending an additional 30 minutes on a part to bring it into spec, which represented an increase of 50% in the usual cycle time, which in turn caused issues downstream. When we asked where the tolerance came from, the person who spec’ed it in simply said “I just picked something”. After discussing the ramifications of this decision, the blueprint was promptly updated to widen the tolerance, saving 100’s of hours of unnecessary work from being performed.