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Attacking Waste in Knowledge Work

By Jon Miller Published on December 11th, 2003

There are 7 types of waste, according to Taiichi Ohno. Attacking these 7 wastes is what makes a company Lean and able to create more value faster. This is also true in the office. Most waste in the factory is easy to spot. Things such as inventory, motion, and defects are visible. Waste can be harder to spot in the office environment, be it engineering, purchasing, or administrative functions. The toughest of the wastes to identify is the waste of processing, where the process itself is waste. So processing is the toughest waste to see, and seeing waste in information flow is harder than in production. This must mean that processing must be nearly impossible to find in the office? Actually, the opposite is true. Just ask the question, “What would happen if we stopped doing X?” with X being the particular engineering, administrative, or knowledge work process. If the answer is “nothing” then you have found an example of waste of processing. The customer of that process does not value that step, and it is therefore waste and should be removed. You have just done Office Kaizen. Try this out! It is more common than you may think.

  1. Julius Turner

    March 22, 2021 - 8:36 am

    I agree that attacking waste is important and needed in the workplace whether in the office setting or on the production floor. Let’s say it is difficult to get management buy in to implement such exercise and activities to identify waste, what other ways to get people motivated and involved in this never ending activity.

  2. Ann Hamon

    March 27, 2021 - 5:34 pm

    I agree, it is difficult to get even employees involved in a waste exercise. I working on a way, through a time study to reduce motion waste. Employees seem to be more responsive to this project of cutting down on moving around a lot.

  3. Jerry Little

    February 8, 2022 - 7:35 pm

    I’ve found that sometimes the most difficult part is actually identifying what truly is process waste. If I think a report which takes me hours to generate is waste because it doesn’t drive any action but my boss likes to see it as a part of overall visual management then is it waste? I’ve found my best area to find low hanging fruit is to start with the processes that I do for myself or that I’ve asked my team to do. If I really challenge if the processes add value, I normally find things that I like but don’t need. This is the easiest place to start but it forces tough decisions and true looks at my own effectiveness and how I’m affecting my teams productivity.

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