Targeting Waste in the Office

Published March 2011

The concept of identifying and reducing waste as a means of improving business results has been around for centuries. None other than Benjamin Franklin devoted attention to the topic, providing practical advice in his books Poor Richardís Almanac and The Way to Wealth.

Henry Ford, during the first part of the 20th century, and Toyota during the latter half, redefined the automobile industry not so much by the superior design of their products but rather by their ability to produce cars with less waste (i.e., more efficiently) than their competitors.

To understand waste, we first have to identify the customer and what they value in our product or service. In short, value is anything for which the customer is willing to pay. Waste then is all of the non-value-adding activities about which customers could care less.

Seeing waste within a job that we have performed repeatedly without questioning for months or years can be tricky. Wasteful steps can be easily camouflaged amidst all of the busyness of our business.

In an effort to help its workers more readily identify the waste in their work, Toyota classified seven forms of waste. While these categories were created for production work, theyíre equally helpful within the office where the vast majority of work is performed today.

  • Transportation waste in manufacturing is the movement of products within a facility or between facilities. It is manifested in planes, ships, trains, trucks, forklifts, or employees carrying, pushing or pulling loads. Likewise in the office, transportation waste is the information or service being moved from one place to another via U.S. mail, intercompany mail, email, or workers handing off paper or electronic files.
  • Waiting waste in production occurs when someone canít immediately do their work because the required parts or machine isnít ready for them. Waiting waste in the office similarly occurs because required information isnít available, computing systems are slow, or a required piece of office equipment is unavailable for use.
  • Over-Production waste is producing or buying more of an item than is needed or procuring it before it is needed. In the factory it shows up in the form of excess inventory, purchased or produced on speculation and now waiting to be hopefully consumed. Over-Production is less obvious in the office since we typically donít process insurance claims or patient admission forms based on speculation. But anytime work piles up in the office behind a slower process, over-production has occurred.
  • Defects waste in the factory is any product that has to be reworked or scrapped. Likewise in the office, defects result in repeating steps or starting over. Defects in the office typically result from missing or incomplete information, poor communication, malfunctioning equipment or poor software.
  • Inventory is pretty clear-cut in production. Itís all the hardware (e.g., raw materials, work in process or finished goods) thatís awaiting use or sale. Inventory in the office is all the work and data stored in out-boxes, in-boxes and files (both hard copy and electronic).
  • Motion waste in the factory represents all of the walking, reaching, bending and twisting required to perform a job. Itís the stuff that causes fatigue and injuries over time if excessive. In the office motion results from poorly designed work areas and software causing unnecessary walking, mouse movements and clicks.
  • Extra-Processing in manufacturing is characterized by unnecessary process steps. An example is unwrapping individually packaged components that could be purchased bulk-packed. Extra-processing in the office is a major, yet extremely sneaky, culprit. It frequently shows up in the form of printing and subsequently filing paper copies of electronic reports even though the latter are more retrievable and safer when stored on a properly backed-up system.

A simple acronym for remembering the seven forms of waste is ďTWO DIME.Ē

Itís important to realize that itís impossible to eliminate all of the waste associated with a given process whether in the factory or the office. Some inventory is necessary, some transportation is required to deliver the final product or service, and so on. The challenge is to continually identify the waste in the system and find ways to reduce it. Thatís been the challenge for hundreds of years and will be for hundreds more.

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