The eight wastes of Lean and how to optimize your project management processes

The 8 wastes of Lean

The idea of waste (a.k.a. muda) in the Lean project management methodology refers to inefficient workflow processes that hinder productivity, reduce output, and drive up costs. The Toyota Production System developed the concept of Lean waste management — a productivity model that removes negative aspects of work production to improve productivity, profitability, and efficiency.

The original seven wastes of Lean — transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects were known by the acronym TIM WOOD. Skills, which refers to non-utilized talent, was added more recently as the eighth waste of Lean — expanding the acronym to TIM WOODS.

This post will explain what the eight wastes of Lean are, how they apply to business settings, how eliminating them can benefit your team, and what you need to get started.

Lean waste #1: Transportation

1. Transportation

Transportation waste refers to any resources lost while moving tools, people, equipment, or products. In original Lean settings, this referred to resources wasted by sending unused inventory back to the warehouse, moving equipment from one site to another, and more.

Transportation waste in project management

In an office setting, transportation waste can refer to the literal movement of team members to the office if their jobs are performed just as well from home. This can become transportation waste if it disrupts workflow, workplace morale, and motivation to complete tasks efficiently.

Transportation waste in business also includes excessive task switching and interruptions. For every disruption between tasks, your staff must refocus and restart. This means that transportation waste in an office often looks like wasted time or incomplete projects.

Identifying and eliminating transportation waste

Identify transportation waste by evaluating work processes and expectations. If you’re not sure where to start, survey your employees to pinpoint areas of transportation waste that you may not be able to see. Since your team knows the daily processes of their jobs the best, they can help identify transport waste.

For example, you may be able to reduce transportation waste by reviewing work-from-home and hybrid work policies. There may be roles that are just as effective from home, at least part of the time. You could also encourage team members to block off time each week for uninterrupted work.

Lean waste #2: Inventory

2. Inventory

Inventory waste is excessive inventory that sits in storage unused. This can cost your business money, storage space, and time. Some of the biggest sources of inventory waste include inefficient tracking and controls, an unreliable supply chain, and overproduction. Having more inventory or acquiring more resources than needed to complete your project can lead to higher lead time during production.

Inventory waste in project management

Inventory waste for a business team could be undelivered products, unused software, completed projects that have not been launched, unused furniture, or even excess office supplies.

In the office, inventory waste can mean taking on more projects and clients than your team can handle. Similarly, purchasing multiple types of software beyond the needs of your staff leads to inventory waste, as some of those investments are under-used.

Identifying and eliminating inventory waste

A solution to inventory waste is reevaluating your client and brand acquisition models, reviewing project proposals, and conducting a survey of your performance. You can also revisit your quarterly budget to evaluate whether you can hire someone to assist with backlogged workload.

Lean waste #3: motion

3. Motion

Motion waste is caused by unnecessary movements that don’t add value to end production, and refers to taking more steps than required to complete a task. While motion waste seems similar to transportation waste, keep in mind that transportation waste deals with lost resources along the transportation process. Motion waste, on the other hand, involves excessive steps during production and transportation.

Motion waste in project management

In project management, motion waste is reflected in poorly structured digital and physical workspaces — disorganized laptop files or internal databases, frequent task reassignment, and more. Since motion waste is about unnecessary steps it also includes redundant or unnecessary meetings. Motion waste reflects disorganization, inconsistency, and often leads to lower employee morale.

Identifying and eliminating motion waste

Identifying motion waste isn’t easy, but disorganization that frustrates members of your team likely indicates a motion waste issue. Eliminate motion waste by auditing common processes. This might inspire you to cancel unnecessary meetings, invest in an asset management system to organize files, or schedule more time for project planning to eliminate the need to make changes once work has begun.

Lean waste #4: Waiting

4. Waiting

Waiting waste represents resources lost while employees are idle and causes inefficiency in workflow and process. Traditionally, waiting waste happens in factories or warehouses when parts or equipment are not available to finish production.

Waiting waste in project management

In an office, waiting waste happens when employees lack direction or information. When team members are forced to wait for approval from upper management to move forward with given tasks, they may have downtime. Waiting is caused by ineffective processes, insufficient communication, and poor time management.

Identifying and eliminating waiting waste

Identify waiting waste by isolating bottlenecks in your workflows. Ask your team members where their work gets held up.

Then, eliminate waiting waste by reassigning tasks and revamping your process. Revisit workflow processes on a regular basis to ensure they work efficiently with new structures, deliverables, team dynamics, company shifts, and more. Be sure that every step adds value. If not, remove it from the workflow.

Lean waste #5: Overproduction

5. Overproduction

Overproduction waste is producing more than is required. In traditional Lean environments, overproduction has to do with literally producing more product than the company can store, sell, or use.

Overproduction in project management

In project management, overproduction happens when the team completes needless or duplicative work. It can refer to anything from printing files that could be sent digitally to a poorly defined scope of work that eats up unnecessary resources.

In business, poor planning and a lack of communication can lead to overproduction. When members of the team don’t understand their roles in relation to others on the team, they may produce more than they need or spend time on off-target work.

Identifying and eliminating overproduction waste

Identifying overproduction is best done at the end of a project when you review the team’s performance. In addition to evaluating the schedule and KPIs, discuss unnecessary work that was completed during the project.

Minor adjustments like improved planning and team communication can help eliminate overproduction waste. For example, your team could implement a Kanban board system to streamline project management. A Kanban board lets your employees self-manage and organize their work, which should improve your communications about a project’s scope. This way, staff won’t take on unnecessary work that doesn’t add value to a project.

Lean waste #6: Overprocessing

6. Overprocessing

Overprocessing waste happens when work is added to a project that creates no additional value for a customer.

While both motion waste and overprocessing waste deal with excessive workflow steps, remember that motion waste refers to unnecessary steps to completing a well-scoped project. Overprocessing creates an unnecessarily complicated project scope by adding features or details that don’t translate to greater value for the customer.

Overprocessing in project management

Overprocessing in project management is very similar to traditional manufacturing environments. It often looks like unnecessary product details or aesthetics that are unneeded and go unused by the customer. It can also be multiple managers reviewing and signing off on work, as it adds redundant and unnecessary steps to a project’s completion.

Identifying and eliminating overprocessing waste

Overprocessing waste can often be found in inefficient workflows that produce duplicate work or in product updates that didn’t come from user feedback. One way to get rid of this Lean waste is to use a product backlog to organize and prioritize projects. The backlog keeps a list of potential projects and the team works together to prioritize them. This can prevent overprocessing waste by making sure the team is only working on features and updates that customers really need.

Lean waste #7: Defects

7. Defects

Defect waste is the loss of money and resources due to products that simply don’t work right. The company has to pay for products to be returned, redesigned, and replaced.

Defects in project management

Defect waste is also similar in project management and traditional manufacturing settings. In business, the defect is generally a digital product rather than a physical one, but the Lean waste principle is the same. Defects can lead to client dissatisfaction and the end of projects of poor quality, which result in lost business.

Identifying and eliminating defects

It isn’t difficult to identify defect waste because your customers will let you know as soon as a product under-performs. Internally, communication and organization are crucial to identifying defects in team processes, functions, roles, interfaces, and workflow models before a product is released

Defects are the result of poor quality control practices, so updating your processes can reduce this Lean waste. Set up quality control checkpoints for important processes or deliverables. During these periods, double-check that all the relevant information is correct, highlight any areas of concern, and create a plan to resolve issues so the project launches without defects.

Lean waste #8: Skills

8. Skills, or unused talent

Skills waste refers to unused talent. (It’s called skills because S is an easier addition to the end of the TIM WOOD acronym.) This type of waste does not come from a traditional manufacturing environment, but it represents resources lost when team members don’t get to spend their time on work that aligns with their skills and expertise.

This waste happens when employees are bogged down with repetitive process work and when teams are understaffed. Staff is forced to take care of immediate day-to-day needs and doesn’t have time to do the big-picture or creative work they were hired for.

Skills waste is bad for companies because they’re paying a premium for highly skilled workers who are doing rote tasks. It can also lead to low workplace morale, quiet quitting, a frustrated company culture, high employee turnover rates, and more.

Identifying and eliminating skills waste

Identify skills waste by auditing your team and what they spend most of their time on. If there’s a gap between the unique value they could be bringing and the daily tasks they’re actually completing, you’re probably losing resources to skills waste. A simple pulse survey is also an effective means to discovering skills waste. If your team members feel undervalued, they’ll tell you in an anonymous survey.

Counteract skills waste by reviewing your staffing needs, team structure, and project software. You may find that you need to hire an administrative support role to offload simple work from your highly skilled employees. Or you might decide that it’s time to upgrade part of your tech stack to get your team some automation on those rote, repetitive tasks.

Getting started with Lean and the eight wastes

The eight wastes of Lean all represent unnecessary complications that waste resources. Identifying and eliminating as many as possible will streamline processes, improve team morale, and boost ROI.

Work on eliminating one type of waste at a time. Maybe one stands out as an obvious problem that you already know is draining resources. If not, start at the top of the list.

When you’re ready to get started, Adobe Workfront can help you eliminate wastes and be more efficient. Workfront helps teams connect, collaborate, and simplify workflows so no matter which Lean waste you’re working on, you have the software that you need.

Watch the overview video or take a free product tour to see how Adobe Workfront can help streamline project management from strategy to delivery.