Can You Explain the Concept of Waste in Lean Six Sigma?

Kyle Stemple | July 19th, 2010

The management philosophy of Lean Six Sigma is centered on improving efficiency and effectiveness in your business.  We use the acronym Downtime +A to describe to nine categories of waste that is commonly found in processes:

Downtime + A




Not utilizing people/talent




Excess Processing



Some easy-to-diagnose examples are re-entering data and duplication of work (excess processing), limited functional responsibilities (underutilized people), excessive movement of paperwork or products (transportation) and of course, processing errors (defects).

When you produce large quantities, your company can become inflexible and less effective in servicing a wide product range – usually creating delivery issues. In an office setting, overproduction happens when workers do more than what is needed in the short term – in essence, not properly prioritizing the work. Each of these wastes increase lead time and are non-value-added activities to both your internal and external customers.

Knowing Your Customer

So how do you focus on value to your customers (internal and external)? You must understand the voice of the customer. Challenge every step and look at the process from the customer’s viewpoint, and ask yourself:

  • What does the customer really need? (Who are the customers? What do they want? How often do they need it? What kind of quality do they expect?)
  • Which steps create waste? Which create value?
  • Does the sequence of the steps create waste?
  • Are decisions made at the appropriate place?
  • What skills and knowledge are required?
  • Where are the “work loops” and why do they occur (i.e. work moving back and forth between two individuals or steps)?
  • How can we employ work flow Lean techniques (i.e. change office layouts to promote better flow)?
  • How do we prioritize work and balance the work load (i.e. eliminate bottlenecks)?

When you ask these tough questions and look to improve your processes with Lean ideas, you are embarking on the journey to become a complete Lean Enterprise. Seriously examining and challenging old processes will yield optimal results, even if you have to throw out old process steps, break out of the paradigm you’re in and seek new and better ways to work.

From manufacturing to the office, implementing Lean is a journey. Lean will seriously challenge your organization’s processes and methodologies. Lean will focus your people to work smarter, not harder.

As industries are becoming ultra-competitive and customer demands continue to pressure margins, it is you must embrace Lean as a corporate strategy in order to stay competitive. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth the investment in your company’s future.

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