Lesson 6: What an Awful Waste

Lean for ServiceThere are so many men who can figure costs, and so few who can measure values.  ~ Unknown

What is Waste?

There is only one really big idea in the world of process improvement.  It is the idea of waste.  The idea springs from this thought:

Everything an organisation does should be for its customers, the people who pay the bill.  Consequently, all actions fall into one of two camps, either they are:

  • Valuable:  They are something a customer is happy to pay for.
  • Wasteful:  They are something a customer doesn’t want to pay for.

The reason this is such a big idea is that it makes process improvement simple.  All you have to do is stop doing all the wasteful stuff and your processes will be perfect.  The only problem with this is that it is a struggle to see what is wasteful and what isn’t.  The idea challenges a whole host of management ideas and preconceptions.  To see the waste you will need to look at the world through a different set of glasses.

The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.  ~Albert Einstein

Tim Woods and the Eight Forms of Waste

Waste is categorised into eight different forms.  The mnemonic TIM WOODS is a way of remembering them.  They are: Transport, Intellect, Motion, Waiting, Over-Production, Over-Processing, Defects and Stock.  To bring the concept to life, imagine you are going on holiday with TIM WOODS; a short jaunt overseas to the sun.


Transport is the unnecessary movement of materials or information.  On your holiday trip you have to drive north to get to the airport before you can fly south.  But it doesn’t stop there.  When you booked you typed all your details into the online booking system.   Yet when you got to the airport to check in they asked you exactly the same questions.  Then they typed them into a system again, double keying the information.  Another example of transport includes the waiter in the restaurant.  He carries plates backwards and forwards from the kitchen all day.

At this point you are thinking to yourself that that was all useful activity, but was it really?  Did you want to pay for it?  At McDonald’s the server walks no more than two meters from where he picks up the food until he hands it over.  At Yo Sushi there are no waiters, the food comes to you on a conveyor belt.


During the trip you meet lots of different people.  Passport control, bag scanners, check-in assistants, air hostesses and luggage handlers.  Almost to a man they have one thing in common, they look bored out of their minds.  Some of these people have degrees in modern languages and mechanical engineering. Some of these people are first class cooks at home.  Some of these people write computer code as a hobby.  They all have some talent, but how much of it do they use?  How much intellect do they channel into their work?  They all realise how broken the process of flying abroad is.  Yet nobody has challenged them to make it better.

There are hard costs associated with the waste of intellect, not just missed opportunities.  These costs show up as staff attrition and absence.


There is a fine line between wasted transport and wasted motion.  Wasted motion is the movements undertaken by people whilst doing their work.  Transport is the movement of things.

On the way through the x-ray machine you put all your belongings into a tray.  There is a man who spends his entire day bending down, picking up trays.  He then walks from one end of the x-ray machine to the other to put them back at the start.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  In another airport the trays are placed on a set of rollers.  They just roll back to the beginning.  It isn’t just the trays though.  Wasted motion is everywhere:  The way your bag is lifted onto the conveyor.  The way it is stacked in the plane.  The way that the air hostess keeps bending down for the water on her trolley (that everybody wants).  These costs show up as wasted staff time and energy.


This is the killer.  Sorry if I am insulting your intelligence spelling this one out.  Have you ever wondered why you have to check in 2 hours before you fly?  Or why you:

  • Wait for the train to the airport
  • Wait to check in
  • Wait to buy a coffee
  • Wait to go through security
  • Wait at passport control
  • Wait for the plane to board
  • Wait to taxi to the runway
  • Wait for the bus at the other end to take you to the terminal
  • Wait (again) at passport control
  • Wait to collect your hire car.

Companies think of waiting as time-saving.  If customers wait then staff are fully utilised.  But if you look at the total system there is so much opportunity in all that waiting.  Wouldn’t you fly more often if you could just turn up and get on the plane?

Over Production

People love to have stuff “just in case”.  Once you have started something it seems to make sense to carry on, to get the economies of scale.

At the airport (whilst waiting) you go to the shop to buy a paper and a bottle of water.  The shop has an offer, “3 for 2” on mineral water.  You think to yourself, “Looks like a good deal, I’ll get two extra bottles.”  Why is this wasteful?  Two reasons:

  • First you end up carrying the water around with you
  • Second you will end up finding it in the bottom of your bag and throwing it down the drain.

The company who sold you the water think it is great as well, but how much cash and effort have they got tied up in stock?  But at least it was cheap.

Over Processing

The second “over” waste is the waste of over processing.  This is doing more than is necessary (and not making more than is necessary).  At its simplest level this is checking that you have your passport 5 times before you leave the house.  Over processing everywhere.  Assume you take the train to the airport.

  1. First you buy a ticket.  The man at the counter checks you have the right one.
  2. Then you have your ticket checked at the barrier to get onto the platform.
  3. Then you get on the train, where somebody will check your ticket
  4. Finally at the other end you walk through another ticket barrier.  With another man to check your ticket.

Some railways even have “revenue protection officers” as well as ticket inspectors.   They can issue fines if you don’t have a ticket.  Of course before they can do that, they have to check your ticket.

Once that has all happened people start checking your plane ticket.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.  ~Peter F. Drucker


This waste is an obvious one but also comes in many shapes and sizes, and can strike without warning:

  • The ticket machine that is broken so you can’t pick up your pre-bought ticket.
  • The train that is late because of a problem with the points.
  • The computer that doesn’t recognise your booking code at the airport.
  • The X-ray machine that beeps even though you aren’t carrying metal.
  • The bag that falls of the conveyor belt and arrives 4 hours late.

The list goes on and on.  The worst thing about defects is that once they start they have knock on effects.  They start to spiral out of control.  Have you ever had a day when the train was delayed by 20 minutes and then you missed the plane all together?  How much money do airlines spend moving bags that didn’t show up on carousels to hotels?  Where does that money come from?  Who do you think pays for the failure, the airline or you?


We love to hold stock, particularly “safety” stock, it gives us a feeling of reassurance.  We even account for stock in a positive way, we see it as an asset, something to be glad of.  The problem with stock is that it ties up money and hides poor planning.

At the last stage of your journey, you pick up your rental car.  You asked for a band B.  Everybody goes for band B.  If you book band A you look like a cheap skate, if you go for band C you are throwing money away.  Unfortunately the company doesn’t have any band B’s left so they upgrade you to a band C.  This seems great until you walk through the airport car park.  There are cars lined up waiting for the next customer, rows and rows of them.  Ask yourself:

  • Who is paying for all these cars to sit there?
  • Why, with all these cars, didn’t they have the band B that you wanted?
  • How often don’t they have a band B?
  • How many people are driving around in upgrades?

Finally, how much would you be paying for this hire car if they had enough band B’s to go around?  Why do they have a car park full of band A’s and C’s that nobody wants to drive?


All the different types of waste interlink, overproduction causes stock.  Stock can cause waiting.  Waiting can cause people’s brains to disengage (intellect).  Lack of intellect can cause defects.  Defects can cause over processing (quality checking).  Don’t get too hung up trying to work out which type of waste you have.  The important thing is to recognise waste for what it is and then do something about it.


This week I’d like you to do a process redesign, finding the waste in your processes and working out how to remove it.

  1. Draw up one of your processes on brown paper on a wall.  Maybe the process for booking in new customers or the process for paying a bill.
  2. Next examine the process, looking for the different types of waste.
  3. Work out what you could do to get rid of it.  How could you re-jig things to remove the waste?
  4. Finally ask yourself how you would feel if you were a customer.  Which service would you feel happier about paying for, the new one or the old?

For a detailed explanation of how to run a service improvement workshop have a look at this video.

How to run a service improvement workshop

It takes some courage to try this out, but have a go.  You will be amazed at what you find.

Next week we will discuss problem solving techniques

Thank you for reading.


Post Script

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