Seven Types of Waste

guy-with-pc-in-grassXSmall copyToyota’s sudden acceleration woes, which led its CEO Akio Toyoda to appear before Congress to explain why the company’s famed quality system broke down and spawned a massive $16M government fine for hiding safety problems, puts a shadow across their once acclaimed management practices.  But its worth remembering what once worked about the innovative Japanese management practices brought to our shores by Toyota.

As a consultant to the USAF on its Intranet, known as the AF Portal, I urged the team to take a page from this Japanese system to diagnose and remedy issues with the AF Portal’s help desk operation.   At the time “Lean Production” principles were all the rage. Officers and contractors alike were urged to learn and adopt them into their own business improvement practices. The idea was to maximize flow and reduce waste.

I found looking at the Seven Types of Deadly Waste as a framework to analyze problems was particularly helpful. The slide show I produced at the time, embedded below,  is an example of putting this framework into action to set priorities for improvement.


The 7 Types of Waste are:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Excess Inventory
  • Motion
  • Processing
  • Transportation
  • Waiting

Here’s how we dissected the relevant help desk issues using the framework.  (Overproduction and excess inventory were not issues that could be applied to the issue at hand.)


At the time, the defects that existed with the help desk had a myriad of root causes which were systemic across several business units who shared responsibility for this operation. These included: the questions and answers, bad instructions, poor training, bad internal communications and an overall lack of standards. The result of not dealing with these defects was that we had upset our customers, wasted consumer resources and cost the USAF money.


The problems with motion included several root causes. There was inefficient flow of material, inefficient procedures and an overall lack of standard work practices. The result of this was labor cycle time was wasted and poor labor efficiency existed.


There were a number of root causes related to processing. Processing problems were rooted in non value-added work. Also, there was a lack of attention to making changes in what is needed – a problem that could have been helped if workers routinely ask “why” five times before moving ahead. Customer needs were also not identified. Variations existed in processing as well, due to a lack of standards. Operator error was also clear. The result of these processing issues was that the system suffered from delay, processes that don’t add value and an increased opportunity for error.


Although it is not immediately intuitive that transportation issues would apply to a help desk team, we found they did. Root causes of transportation issues included inefficient facility layout, a lack of flow, non value-added operations, long set-up times and a “batch” mentality which led to resolutions only when a requisite number of issues had accumulated. As a result of these issues, more time was needed to resolve problems, space was wasted, there was increased opportunity for damage during handling and there were also equipment needs to review.


Waiting was the root cause of all other wastes. There was insufficient capability, non value-added processing, non-standard work and poor material flow. The result of waiting was increased lead-time, increased work in process and a response to the customer which is slowed.


Breaking down a problem to component parts and focusing on the assembly line style parts, helped the team reflect on priorities for improvement. By translating the root causes and pin-pointing the results of the problem for the organization’s customers we also put a human face on the problem to spur urgency needed to fix the issues.

I’ve always believed that once you describe the problem and forge agreement with all parties on the description – you own the solution. This system helped us have a common language on describing the problem. The solutions that emerged on our punch-list for priorities for improvement set the stage for a turn-around to the relief of many help desk customers.

In spite of Toyota’s troubles, I think the legacy of the “Seven Types of Deadly Waste” will continue to inform management decision-making for those involved in business process improvement teams. Can you see the framework being applied anywhere in your organization?