In any business, waste is costly. The last thing a business owner or leader wants to do is find that they are wasting time, money, or resources. In the spirit of being thankful, mindful, and strategic, here are 8 key areas that leaders should continually evaluate for waste.
Often times, when we hear the word “waste” in reference to business, we think of inventory. Each piece of inventory (purchased, stored, or manufactured) has an associated cost. Are you ordering too much? Are you ordering the wrong products? Do you have very low turnover rates on a certain material? If so, these are wasteful inventory practices. You have identified wasteful inventory practices that should be reassessed and adjusted to eliminate waste and increase efficiency. I would suggest starting with making a list of the underutilized equipment, slow moving products, expired supplies or products, and products or equipment that moves too fast or not at all. Search for alternatives, but do not sacrifice quality for cost.
Talent waste can be present in several forms: (1) under utilizing a person’s skills, abilities, and resourcefulness; (2) misunderstanding regarding roles and responsibilities; (3) delegating or assigning tasks without adequate training or resources; or (4) failing to obtain and leverage ideas from those connected to the work. Talent waste is risky because not only can it cause bottlenecks in the workflow, but it may also foster other forms of waste. Talent waste can be a contributing factor in employee turnover or result in companies losing some of their most talented and loyal employees. Try engaging with your employees about where they want to go in their careers as it may present an opportunity for you, the employee, and the company. Aside from merely having staff meetings and annual (or semi-annual) performance reviews, have individual annual discussions to specifically discuss individual personal development plans (i.e. skill development), succession planning, or career development. Also, try small work-groups that focus on the efficiency of processes in the department or work unit.
Bending, turning, reaching, lifting, up, down, back, and forth. Motion waste is any excess movement, by employees or machines, which does not add value to the process, service, or product. For example, your office is on the 7th floor, the printer is on the 4th floor, and the fax machine is located on the 3rd floor. How much motion and time is moving from floor to floor? Congratulations on the extra exercise, however the extra motion is unnecessary and the space between the three areas does not add any value to the work that needs to be completed. Take note of the most used or necessary items, note their distance apart or from your workstation, and rearrange them accordingly. Repeat this evaluation at least semi-annually. If you cannot rearrange the placement of these items, this could be a business case for change.
Do you spend countless minutes or hours on hold? Or even waiting for someone to provide you with an answer via phone call or email? Time spent waiting for parts, information, next steps, instructions, people, or equipment is a waste. The end result isn’t the waste, it is the time spent waiting because that time could have been used to complete the project or ship the equipment. The wait can also create unwarranted stress on the person(s) waiting (the customer or the employee). This bottleneck can also be the cause of monetary waste or loss. If you are the manager or executive, have employees track their most common sources of stoppage. If you are the employee, take the initiative to track these blockages and present them to your manager with alternatives or solutions.
I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been asked for a specific person’s contact information or the name of the person assigned to a specific position, only to spend hours trying to locate the correct information online or by calling around because there was not a readily available employee database or organization chart to refer to. This is a classic example of wasted searching. If a customer poses this question, do you have the resources or information available to provide the answer or point them in the right direction? The time and energy spent looking for misplaced or misfiled materials, information, equipment or people is searching waste. In your work, where do you find yourself searching? How can that be fixed or at least reduced? Are databases (internally or externally) needed? Should a point of contact be established as a subject matter expert? Maybe the solution is the implementation of a new workflow to reduce searching.
In the manufacturing industry, defects can cause damage to not only to the brand’s reputation, but also the consumer. Incomplete or sub-par components overlooked or passed along the process can snowball the impact of the initial defect. Examples include General Motors’ ignition glitch, Toyota’s bake recall, and Takata’s airbag recall. In other industries, how a customer is treated along their journey can also be considered defective. For example, a customer calls into the help line and is handled poorly by the representative. This customer is then passed along to another department and treated poorly again. What message is being conveyed to the customer? The time and resources it may cost to rework, scrap, or correct the documentation for these products, services or processes that do not meet expectations or needs, may save lives and the reputation of the company. Clearly define the standards of quality for your product or service. Ensure that all employees are adequately trained to perform the service(s) or manufacture the product(s). Additionally, prepare employees with the education and tools to be able to quickly identify, report, and/or correct defects.
How consistent is the work or services being output by your department or work unit? Is there one consistent way to perform a specific task? Lacking a consistent way of performing work that should be standardized or processes that yield varying or unpredictable results is waste in the form of variation. Collaborate with those that do the work to identify best practices. Evaluate these practices for efficiency and effectiveness. Align those best practices with the goals and objectives of the department or company. Implement the new process and train employees.
Over-processing is simply doing more than what is needed or expected in a process. Often times this is a result of the creation of multiple versions of the same task (variation) or ill-designed processes.
Think about your company or department. Look for the following:
• Poor communication
• Excessive or duplicate reports
• Numerous signatures
• Re-entering data/replicated data
• Insufficient or lack of standards
• Misinterpretation or misconception of customer needs
All of the above increase the use of your time, resources, and (most importantly) costs. Draw and analyze your processes (try using a Fishbone diagram or something similar). Standardize procedures and workflows, and empower employees. Also, consolidate or eliminate excessive documentation, sign-off procedures and meetings.
Overall, waste, in its various forms, can hinder a company from being able to achieve their objectives because it limits resources (including time and money) and does not add value to the overall goals. Take the time to comb through processes, obtain input from those that perform or are affected by the work, and implement necessary changes.