What is meant by ‘waste’ in the workplace? No, not the type of waste that ends up in the bins in this image.

I’m talking here about any step or activity in a process that consumes resources but adds no value from the perspective of those involved in the process, including the customer of whatever the process produces.

I expect we have all experienced workplace waste at some point in our working lives, but we may not have always been able to put a name to the what, the how, the where, then when and the why waste was occurring. Luckily, wastes are not difficult to spot once you know what to look for.  

Like many others in the world of Lean we categorise wastes under the headings of Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Over-production, Defects, and Skills. “How do I remember them” I hear you ask. Well, arranged in the order we have here, the first letter of each waste spells out the name Tim Woods. For those of you interested, Tim Woods is an Acrostic. The Oxford Reference has this to say of Acrostic, “A poem, word puzzle, or other composition in which certain letters in each line form a word or words”. Every day is a school day.

Any activity you carry out in your workplace can have waste from more than one category, and those wastes may occur in more than one step in the process. 

The impact of waste on employees, budgets, clients, products and resources can be immensely damaging to an organisation. However, with careful targeting, waste can be drastically reduced if not eliminated entirely. Waste reduction is crucial to your viability, to your Lean strategy, and St Andrews Lean Consulting is expert in working with organisations to enable them to identify and manage Tim Woods.

As part of the workforce, you can unwittingly contribute to waste activity or as a customer you may be on the receiving end of a process where waste is prevalent. I’d like to share with you an experience I endured as a customer and perhaps you can identify the wastes that contributed to my frustration. Here goes:

I spotted in the window of a charity shop a rather nice-looking brown leather handbag. It was a designer label handbag, it was a reasonable price and I wanted it! 

The shop was closed and upon checking opening times I decided to go back when it opened the following day thinking I would be the first customer in store and the bag was in the bag so to speak. Excellent!

I arrived the next day, Friday – dead on opening time – and to my horror and puzzlement the shop was already open, in full operation and there were people in it! Buying things!!

Luckily, the bag was still in the window. Phew!

I approached the person at the counter, quite smug as I thought my plan had worked, and told them what I wanted.

“The bag in the window? Oh, no. We don’t go in the window. The people come and change it on a Monday”, I was informed. 

I have to tell you here, that this was no Oxford Street shop window dripping with luxury, this was a shop where you could get a dead man’s tie for £2!

“I don’t want you to change the window, I just want to buy the bag please”, I replied a little bemused.

“The things stay in the window for a week and then they get changed on Mondays, that’s how it works”, was the reply. 

Newsflash: I don’t think it’s working, and this is definitely not working for me. 

I’d always been under the impression that is how a shop works; you go in and you buy things and walk out with those things! 

“So … can I come back on Monday then?”, I asked.

“You could … but I’ll have to check the list,” I was told.

What!?! There’s a list? Indeed, there was, and they got out a clipboard. 

“I’ll put you down on the list but there are five people ahead of you”, they offered.

What!?! Ahead of me? Where? I’m the only one standing here in the queue! (Is it a queue if I’m the only one in line?).

They went on; “Yes there is a list, five people want the bag and I will call the top person on Monday and if they no longer want the bag, I will go down the list”.

What!?! Stunned silence. It was at this point that I noticed behind them a framed business school certificate. I’ll help you out with the game here – we can clearly identify that as a waste of time! I would not recommend a business school where common sense and Lean practices are not part of the syllabus.

“So, you have sold this bag six times over, which is a pretty good hit rate, but you are still leaving it in the window, and you are going to disappoint five customers?” 

“I can put you down on the list,” they offered again, a little less hopefully this time, “That’s all I can do”.

Or – here’s a thought – you could walk 10 feet to the window and get me the bag I want! 

“Yes, great, put me on the list and then you can call me on Monday but I think you’ll be telling me what I already know. Thank you”.

Frustrated and bewildered I left. Unfortunately, it was too early for a drink. 

I had more questions than answers! Why did persons two, three, four and five add their names to the list? And why did I? How many more people would suffer my experience? How long would this list go on for? What part of this system did they think was ‘working’? Did they have no other bag they could replace it with? Why was the system created like this when it didn’t have to be? Shall I come back on Monday just to get a glimpse of the window police? 

Someone somewhere owes me a designer, brown, leather handbag! 

Whilst this may be a light-hearted example of abundant waste in action, you certainly do not feel light-hearted if the processes you work with, and encounter, are bogged down with waste. This can lead to real job dissatisfaction and almost always, frustration.  

If you are curious about effective and lasting change in your workplace processes, let me know. 


PS I didn’t get the bag.

(Image by PixelDino from Pixabay)