Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Coaching Lean

 Getting Started

My approach when getting engaged with a new team or organization is to first listen and understand the entire context of the client: the executives, the leaders, the teams, their work, their customers and their history.

Second, understand the goals and constraints of the client, the teams, the leaders, the people, etc, in terms of how they want to be coached: Hands On? Back of the Room? Sensei? What do they know already? What would they like to learn? What are their challenges? Current pains?

Then engage to empower the team – when I am successful, they will own their own continuous improvement – able to “Learn Their Way” out of any problem and into greater and greater success.

At any time, this may involve training and coaching teams, leaders, individuals, executives through the three levels described below.


I pay close attention to team dynamics, interpersonal relations and communication styles.

I seek to understand what their experience with “agile” or Lean has been. Scrum, Kanban? A scaling framework like SAFe or Spotify? What worked or not? What did they like or not?

I want to get as much face time as possible as quickly as possible with all who have issues, confusion, doubt, resistance or reluctance. I have extensive experience with agile “anti-patterns” and ill-fitted frameworks. Many times issues can be resolved quickly by getting practice with the very process of continuous improvement itself. I set up open training sessions, Q&A sessions (office hours, ask-me-anything time), and informal “lunch and learn” sessions for various tools and techniques. I hold “student pilot” sessions (private, small group or open as appropriate) for people to try ideas out. As much as possible I seek to get leaders, managers, and executives involved in the Lean adoption (learning how to improve) process.

Three levels of Coaching

In coaching I provide large group training, team coaching, individual counseling and executive coaching to meet the organization in their own context at three levels:

Strategic / Principle:

  • What is the Value we deliver to the Customer? How do we get better (Kaizen)?
  • What is the Work needed to create that Value? How do we get better?
  • What are the Skills and Knowledge needed to do the Work? How do we get better?
  • What are the Behaviors and Systems needed to do these? How do we get better?
  • What is the Culture needed to empower the organization to accomplish this? How do we get better?

Operational / Attitude:

  • Establish a Sense of Urgency: What is the most important thing to finish today?
  • The Three Pillars of Respect (Respect for Customer, Respect for your Craft, Respect for People)
  • Kaizen in Your Heart (Continuous Improvement)
  • Go and See (for leaders and executives: Genchi Genbutsu)
  • Problems Are Treasures
  • Eyes for Waste (eliminate the 15 kinds of waste)
  • What is Standard Work?
  • Make Retrospectives meaningful
  • Lead with Data
  • Substance over ceremony
  • Flow 
  • Deming’s 14 Points

Tactical / Tools and Techniques

  • Visual Management 
  • PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act)
  • Andon (Stop and Fix)
  • Use of the A3 (scientific method)
  • Statistical Process Control (e.g., using the Jira control chart)
  • Root Cause Analysis 
  • The “Periodic Table” of work
  • Value Stream Analysis
  • Global Best Practices (Yokuten)

Depending on need and interest I instill these principles, attitudes and techniques so that they are part of everyone’s “common sense” behavior of how to get things done.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Go and See

 One of the fundamental principles of Lean comes directly from the Scientific Method of Francis Bacon: In order to know what is true, you have to go and see (genchi genbutsu) – check things out for yourself. In particular, if you want to know about a situation, a team, an issue – you have to visit the actual place of the work – the gemba. You can’t rely on the second-hand information you get from reports, metrics or dashboards. From these visits you will gain an understanding of the team’s strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. It will give you the insight needed to deal with things beyond the team’s capability to solve. It will help you provide opportunities to help the team learn and get better at their work, and get better at their work, and how they work together to do the work.

This practice – to take a gemba walk – has been so successful, in every industry, across every culture that it is the first lesson given to every new Lean leader: “Go and See, Ask Why, Show Respect”.

Getting Started

The first question is, where do you go? Where does work happen? Where is “value” created? In people’s heads? On whiteboards? Chat channels? Conversations? Meetings? Is there an actual physical place where the team resides? What if the team is distributed, or remote? Is there a visual management system used by the team? Where can you observe the team in their “natural habitat”?

The second question is, what do you do when you are there? You should watch, listen and learn. Especially at first. If this is brand-new for you and the team, you need to establish that you are not there to judge or criticize, only observe. You need to go often enough that your visits are not an “event”, not an interruption, and not a change from their daily activities.

What do you see and hear? What can you see and hear? What do you not see or hear?

You will see things that may seem odd, that are unexpected, perhaps wasteful and maybe even nonsensical. Resist the temptation to intervene and “solve things”. Understand that they do these things this way because they are trying their best given the constraints and demands they work under. This is the basis of showing respect.

Self-reflect on what you see and hear, and consider whether you are the source of those constraints and demands. As you provide safety in these visits, you can begin to ask the question “why”.

Ongoing Practice

Once the practice established you can expand your interactions. This begins by asking “why” in a respectful, non-judgmental manner. Remember that ultimately, they are only doing what you told them to do. What did you do say to make them behave this way? Ask questions to understand.

Of course you will see things and think immediately of the solution. If it is a burden you can take off the team’s back then tell them and do it. Otherwise look for a way to allow the team to learn their own way to a solution on their own.

Before you go

What do you know about team? What is the purpose of this team? What is their value stream? What is their part of the total value delivered by the organization? What is the skill distribution? What are their known issues? Who are their sister teams? Who are they dependent on? Recent crises and emergencies? What do you know about their daily life?

Review all of it – and then set that knowledge aside and visit with an open mind.

After each visit

What did you learn? What does the team need? What does it need less of? What should be celebrated? What lessons can help other teams?

What will you do differently next time? What do you want to look at next? what will you change about yourself – expectations, style, attitude?

Make your follow-up actions on any commitments visible.

General rules

  • Expect to learn: about the work, about the team and what you can do to help
  • Look for things you can take off their plates (admin, reports, etc)
  • Help the team learn to recognize waste
  • Have you created the conditions for continuous improvement to occur? Is it?
  • Are your there to see? Or be seen? Observe the team with respect- the team is the focus of your visit
  • Take time to reinforce the team’s learning
  • Learn how to help the team learn
  • Don’t be a burden during your visit
  • Coach the team in systems thinking – how they fit in the bigger picture
  • Occasionally get “down in the mud” – what are their actual work problems? Try to get a real sense of what they do every day
  • Look for what the team has control over and what they are controlled by. Their work intake? Getting to production? Sister teams? Dependencies? Meetings?
  • Avoid a rush to judgement. Avoid a rush to “fix” things
  • Make it safe for the team to express their pain, their issues. Don’t show up just to shoot the wounded
  • Don’t think you have to make a contribution or give advice
  • Coach the team in problem solving
  • Help the team build a sense of urgency 

Balanced Rules

A few additional guidelines that perhaps seem self-contradictory:

  • Go often enough to not let a single rare even distort your impression of what is “normal” and “abnormal” – and also often enough to catch a unique crisis
  • Use the 3:1 rule of encouraging statements to challenges – but don’t validate bad practices
  • Make “go and see” a regular practice, but don’t make it a ritual or meaningless ceremony


There is no substitute for being present with a team to see how they actually work. There is no metric or report that can give you the same depth of insight and awareness. It is only by seeing things first-hand that you can know what could help or hurt. A regular practice of effective gemba walks lets you grasp the situation each team is in. Asking “why” leads to uncovering root causes. And acting on what you learn from your visits – to make the daily life of the team better – is the greatest kind of respect.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

All Hands On Deck


Have you ever been involved in a crisis situation – perhaps a major outage or production issue – when someone says something like “all hands on deck”? You know what was meant. Drop everything else and everyone focus on this one thing. Regardless of what else you were doing. Regardless of whether or not any particular set of skills was immediately relevant or not.

Did it work? Did you solve it?

What if you made this practice, where the whole team works together to finish a single item, a regular tool in your team’s toolbox? To use in calmer times, not just when there is a crisis?

Why you should consider it

This practice is recommended for new teams, or teams with new members who are going thru the stages of group development. It is great for team building and establishing a common vocabulary. Following it demands communication, so communication becomes a habit.

It is also recommended for established teams beginning or already on their continuous improvement journey. It is useful when the team is doing something new, or when there are questions about how the team should operate.

It can be used whenever a team wants to baseline their standard practices. It is a good way to compare theory (the “process” we tell ourselves we follow) and what we actually do in reality. It allows the identification and sharing of best practices, tips and tricks. It uncovers conflicting assumptions and miscommunications. It is a great way to transfer knowledge – to learn by doing. All members of the team get exposure to all the skills needed to get work done.

With a single work item focus, the flow of work is paramount, and any impediments become immediately obvious: bottlenecks and delays cannot be ignored, and waste is glaringly visible. There is no need to have status meetings as everyone has been right there. And there is no need to worry about WIP (Work in Progress), as we are only doing this.

How is it done?

Have the whole team participate in every aspect of each item, from beginning to end, from refinement to retrospective. Make sure everyone is “keeping up” with the state of the solution. Take time to insure everyone’s understanding. Rotate “who’s driving” so everyone gets a hands-on opportunity.

Have everyone take notes: mental notes, written notes, typed notes, sticky notes. As issues or concerns are raised, add them to your kaizen backlog. If there are areas for further exploration or training, add them as well. Track cycle time, and also how long each step or stage takes. Think about where the boundaries of those steps are, what constitutes “done” for each or what is needed before a step can start.

Be sure all of these become part of the team’s knowledge base.

Since you are paying close attention to all the aspects of the work, use that information to help create the categories for your types of work. Use this to help fill our you periodic table of work.

Conduct a retrospective on each work item immediately upon completion. Review everything that was done. Should it be accepted as standard practice? Was it a “best” practice?

Things will not be perfect, and there will be lots of areas you will want to improve. Have everyone participate in the continuous improvement process and make sure everyone is included in all experiments. Everyone should be encouraged to add items to the team’s kaizen backlog.

Be sure and reflect your lessons learned in your visualmanagement system.

Going Forward

Some teams find they prefer working this way. Some shift to more of a swarming arrangement for part of the work once everyone is familiar and comfortable with the entire flow.

Take the energy of a crisis call of "all hands on deck" and make it part of your everyday toolkit.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Problems are Treasures

The story is told of how back in the 1980’s, when American cars were notorious for shabby construction but Japanese cars just ran and ran, Taiichi Ohno, head of production at Toyota invited American car executives to Japan to tour his factories.

They arrived and began taking detailed notes on everything – how far apart the work stations and parts bins were, how the workers exercised every morning, how inventory was handled, etc.

After they left, the workers besieged Ohno-san. “Ohno-san! Ohno-san! Are you crazy?! You let them see everything! They will steal all our secrets! Ohno-san just smiled and said, “they see the configuration, they see the calisthenics, the see the Kanban, but they do not have kaizen in their hearts. By the time their plane lands in Detroit this will all be different!”

Kaizen In Your Heart

What did Ohno-san mean by “Kaizen in the heart”? Kaizen is usually translated as “continuous improvement”. Continuous improvement is on everyone’s agenda. Retrospectives, for example, are considered “kaizen events” where the team is expected to continuously improve. But there is more to kaizen than practices, ceremonies, templates or artifacts. Kaizen, beyond just “continuous improvement” has additional cultural – almost spiritual – implications.

Someone with kaizen in their heart has a relentless drive to improve. They look to improve in everything they deliver, every action they take, every team they are a part of. They expect to improve. They know improvement is possible and look for ways to accomplish it. They are, quite frankly, annoyed when they can’t deliver the value they know is possible. Annoyed by waste, for example, whenever the see it, because they have eyes for waste. They constantly look to better understand the customer and what would be of real value to them.

This spirit comes from the top: a pervasive cultural attitude demonstrated and personified by organizational leadership – a fundamental belief that Problems are Treasures.

Where does this idea come from?

Every agile team has the notion of a “block”. Teams are told to “raise a block” if they get stuck or run into something outside their control. Scrum teams make it part of their daily standup – “any blockers?” they ask.

In practice people only “raise blocks” that affect their current situation. Even then technical people, who have spent a career solving technical problems, are reluctant to say they’ve run into something they can’t handle. Rarely is a block raised due to anything not specifically technical, such as wasteful practices, how the team is working together, team culture, or management behaviors. Rarer still is someone raising a block when things are mostly working “fine”, but could be better.

In Lean we talk about “stop and fix” and “stop the line”, based on the idea of the Andon. The andon (meaning “lamp” in Japanese) cord can be pulled by any worker, any time, for any reason. When it was pulled, a light would come on, the line would stop, and everyone would gather to address the issue immediately. They had learned it was better to halt production (even delay production) and fix the problem right now rather than allow the situation to deteriorate or let defects reach the customer. The concept was built into automated and semi-automated systems as a capability to automatically stop when something was wrong. This idea, to “automatically stop and fix the problem”, became a cultural expectation for every person. It became a key element of Lean management known as “Jidoka”.

Leadership realized that if the end goal was to deliver “perfect value using a perfect process with zero waste” they were going to have problems getting there. They knew they would get it wrong before they figured out what was right. They knew they had things to learn, and they would make mistakes as they learned. And the sooner they made those mistakes, the sooner they could learn from them. They needed to instill an eagerness to look for problems, those “mistakes”, because fixing them is when learning could happen.

How can you tell if your organization has Kaizen in the Heart?

You can already guess some of the enablers and conditions that allow and encourage this spirit. Do people feel safe? Would a new hire feel comfortable calling out an issue? Are work processes, standard practices and value streams well enough known that any team member can tell if something is “off”?

What happens in a crisis, or major screw-up? How does the organization react during and after? What is the response to a mistake or a complaint? Do you engage in blamestorming? Or do you consider it a learning opportunity? What is the tone of the reaction? What is the attitude toward the issue and those who “caused it”?

What if things are going (seemingly) smoothly? Can anyone raise a concern? Do they raise it immediately or wait for the retrospective (hoping they will remember)?

Do you consider something “going wrong” as an opportunity to get better?

How do you bring this spirit to your organization?

What would happen if someone on your team arbitrarily demanded the entire team stop all work and huddle around to solve a problem?

If someone “pulls the cord”, what is the first thing you (the team, leadership) should do? Say “thank-you” to whomever stopped production. Thank-you for caring about the customer and wanting them to have the quality they expect. Thank-you for caring enough about your teammates and our organization to prevent a problem from spreading. Thank-you for caring enough about our professional craft, our agreed processes and way of working to hold us accountable to our standards as professionals. Thank-you for giving us all an opportunity to learn, to think about our work systems that led to this halt, and to improve all of those processes, flows, systems, behaviors, learning and culture.

Could you start this with your team? It will take time, repeated practice and demonstrated safety to make it a habit.

Could you say it – and mean it – if it is a false alarm? “Thank-you” for mistakenly interrupting everyone’s work? Yes, even a false alarm is an opportunity to learn, to train, to practice, to problem solve, and to improve.

This attitude, by the team, by supervisors, by managers and by executives, is the “Jidoka mindset”: Problems are Treasures, an essential part of having kaizen in your heart.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A “Periodic Table” of Work

 What are the kinds of work do you do? Are there different things you do depending on some aspect of the work?

Are there nuances or differences due to complexity, uncertainty, or size? Do you switch between “regular” or scheduled work and “unplanned” or unscheduled work (such as production issues or defects)? What about small items, the “gnats and rats” that are too small to account for, yet eat up so much time? And your long term or large scale work you know will need to be split up?

 In the mid-1800’s, the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev identified patterns in what was know about the elements. He created a table that used similarities in the properties and attributes of elements to group and order them, resulting in a Periodic Table of Elements.

Have you noticed any patterns in the work you do? Do you have enough information about each that you could use to classify them?

Could you create a “periodic table” for your work?

How would you do it? What are the attributes and parameters you would use to organize the categories?

Where do you get this information? 

Before, during and after you’ve done the work. The elements and interactions to complete the work provide a firehose of information.

Start by noting all the information used during refinement. Save all your hypotheses and assumptions. Keep all this visible while the work is underway, and note all the confirmations and surprises.

Review all of it upon completions. This is aidedby making all your work visible.

Be sure to include cycle time as one of the attributes you collect.

The taxonomy will change as you gather more variations. You will split some categories and recombine others. Are the variations “isotopes” or a different element altogether? What makes a normal piece of work “radioactive”?

Remember that any arrangement is a hypothesis to be confirmed or not by each additional work item taken up by the team. Where do you think it fits? Did it?

Why do this?

Each time you finish a specific type of work (“element”) you’ve collected data (cycle time) of how long it takes to finish that kind of work. When you get another similar piece of work, what is your best estimate of how long that new piece of work will take?

Of course – the statistical average and deviation of all the previous times you done the same thing.

You can now make estimates based on fact – the “physics” of actual experience.

You have moved your planning from the pre-scientific dark ages to modern reality. And you’ve given your team the perfect response to any push or pressure to get it done “sooner”.

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Three Pillars of Respect

 The secret of long-term success

In the 1980’s, Taiichi Ohno (head of production at Toyota, creator of what we call Lean Management) was asked the secret of Toyota’s success. He responded with one word: Respect.

Ohno-san’s use of the simple word “respect” carries with it a number of behaviors, attitudes and practices. These are grouped into three areas known as the Three Pillars of Respect:

  • Respect for people
  • Respect for your craft
  • Respect for the customer

 Respect for People

This idea is expressed by the phrase: “Build great products by building great people”. Respect for People means all the things you would expect: treat each person as an individual, care for each in their context, etc, but it does not mean a facile “empowering”. Instead it means to challenge people with high expectations and support their achieving them. It is not simply sending people to training but giving people space to learn (and even fail), support their learning and expect that they will learn. It means to focus on understanding their situation and what they are dealing with. It means to ask rather than tell, and when you ask “why”, listening for the answer. Having respect for people is the key enabler of continuous improvement.

 Respect for Your Craft

What does it mean to “respect your craft”? We assume everyone is a professional. You are a professional. You know what your work – your craft- is and what its professional standards are. You know what is quality work. You have learned the skills needed to do the work you do. You attend professional conferences where you meet with your technical peers. More importantly, you seek to uphold those professional standards to the point where you are actually annoyed when you can’t deliver at anything less that perfection. You "pull the Andon" when your process is not creating quality work of value. You notice waste and wasteful practices, and make a point of putting an item to eliminate each one on your Continuous Improvement backlog. But more than that, you work to constantly improve your skills, constantly learning and challenging yourself to get better.

Respect for the Customer

How do we have “respect for the customer”? We seek to know what the customer’s objectives are. We want to know what is important to them, and what they consider useful and helpful – what has value. We want to get that value to them as quickly as we can. Often this pillar becomes operational as “having a sense of urgency”: a deep desire to deliver something meaningful to the customer right now. This leads directly into the idea of “pull”: we are always urgently pulling work into Done.

The three pillars are mutually-reinforcing. “Respect” - the Three Pillars of Respect - are a set of high-level principles that can be applied throughout an organization at any level.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fifteen (yes, 15) Kinds of Waste in Knowledge Work

15? I thought it was 7

Traditional Lean Manufacturing recognizes 7 kinds of waste: Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Extra-Processing, and Defects. These are considered forms of muda, non-value adding activities.

There are two other categories that interfere with the delivery of value: mura - process stress, and muri - people stress. These stresses are considered impacts that "lead to" waste.

Waste in Knowledge Work

Lean practitioners in Knowledge Work (e.g., software, IT, any kind of cognitive effort) have identified three additional categories of muda: Talent, Resources, and By-Products.

In addition, for knowledge work, making a difference between mura/muri "stress" and the waste they cause is an academic exercise only. In the real world they all need to be eliminated.

Why categories of Waste?

Why bother knowing categories of waste? To raise awareness and help establish an "Eyes for Waste" culture. Often waste is just what we swim in and we don't perceive it.

What do we do about it?

You can do formal "Value Stream Analysis", but honestly that's mainly useful for convincing ineffective executives and non-contributing PMO's to cut themselves out of the delivery flow. "80%" of the time waste will be obvious.

Just stop it.

Other times finding the best way to get rid of it will be a challenge. As with all things Lean, don't expect to be perfect right away, expect to uncover waste like an excavation of ancient Troy, with yet another layer underneath.

Sometimes the solution will be upstream, higher up, or systematic. Often it will require new habits, practices and behaviors.

And as always, be scientific and explicit in your waste removal experiments.

15 Kinds of Waste

Here's the list of the 15 kinds of waste in knowledge work:

Muda - non-value adding activities (pure waste)

In knowledge work, the traditional manufacturing waste categories are considered slightly differently.

Transport Waste

Transport waste is any kind of hand-off. Across geographies, departments, between teams:
  • Any time “the work” has to leave one person’s head and be picked up by another
  • Any effort needed to move information from one format or tool to another in order to make it useful
  • Every upstream/downstream work item transfer between “concept and cash”
  • Any “interface mismatch” 
  • Include all the effort needed to “coordinate”
Be on the lookout for:
  • Any time “explanation” is needed for hand off
  • Any kind of “extract”, “transform” or “load” of work artifacts
  • No permanent place for work visualization
  • No permanent team space for collaborative work

Inventory Waste

Inventory waste represents unneeded latency. It appears in backlogs, work-in-progress, and queues throughout the value stream. In knowledge work it is also the "left behind" item that is paused during task switching. Each paused item, regardless of granularity, is inventory waste.

It is also seen in:
  • Any item in any unfinished or "wait" state
  • Any effort needed to pause or "hibernate" a work item
  • All open decisions yet unresolved without experiments to conclude them

Look out for:
  • Having to "get back up to speed"
  • Unread emails, emails flagged "for follow up"
  • Team is unable to prioritize a single "most important thing" to finish today

Motion Waste

Motion waste is any time, effort or action spent getting to the work. Knowledge work motion waste includes setup, access and record-keeping.

  • Any electronic, physical or mental actions needed to get started
  • Meetings without agenda or purpose; meetings that didn’t need a meeting to accomplish the same thing
  • Effort to record data for non-emergent metrics
  • Effort to prepare reports that simply describe the work (“status reports”, “red/yellow/green”, etc)
  • Any effort to produce unused metrics, estimates or reports
  • Searching for information not on visual management system
  • Any use of magical thinking "metrics" like story points and velocity

Look for:
  • TPS Reports
  • Metrics collection to "the third decimal"
  • Leadership/management does not "go and see" by visiting the workplace visual management system

Waiting Waste

Waiting waste is obvious, right? Any delays - internal or external. Dependencies, approvals, etc. Once you get past the big, obvious ones there are all kinds of wait wastes throughout the work day like sand in the gears.

The "waits" are often small, subtle, and built into the culture and DNA of individual and organizational behaviors. Changing these and establishing new non-wasteful norms will take continual attention and practice.

Some of the places you'll find waiting waste include:
  • Third party (outside of team) supplier timing
  • Approval requests that are always approved
  • Meetings that don’t (can’t) start/end on time
  • Meeting “pre-work” unavailable or undone
  • Decisions postponed (e.g., key person not present)
  • Waiting for email responses
  • Work hiatus at sprint boundary (scrum teams)
Be on the lookout for:
  • People “checking their phones” during some other event
  • “We never expect to start until 5 min. after”
  • Rescheduling previously rescheduled meetings
  • Frustration from friction
  • “Stuck Tickets” 

Overproduction waste

Overproduction waste is fundamentally a mismatch between expectation and delivery. In particular, miss-prioritization, over-engineering, and miss-understanding of the customer's value.

There are many sources of this:
  • Too large of batch sizes
  • Anticipating requirements/acceptance criteria
  • Ill-defined process transitions 
  • Upstream/downstream coordination failures
  • Repackaging information in different forms for different audiences
  • Reliance on ceremony rather than fact
Watch out for:
  • Analysis Paralysis that end with "all of the above"
  • No communication with customer 
  • Missing/incomplete acceptance criteria
  • “Pulling in” multiple work items, scrum “commitments” (quotas)

Extra-processing waste

Extra-processing waste comes from re-work, duplicated work, and redundant work.
The most obvious of these in the software development world is "technical debt". but it also comes from:

  • Inconsistent processes between team members
  • Vendor mandated “upgrades”
  • Emails that cc everyone, “reply all” cascade
  • Product quality via testing after work completion
  • Meetings with people who don’t need to be there
  • Decisions with no follow up
Watch for:

  • Groundhog Day: “Again??”
  • Random queue growth
  • “Testing” as a bottleneck
  • Effort spent having to deal with sprint “leftovers” (scrum teams)

Defect Waste

"Defects" is the type of waste most people think of when they think of process wastes. It is the seventh, and last, of the traditional manufacturing wastes. It comes from failures in production, and the solution is normally process-focused: build quality in rather than checking for it afterwards, remove from the process any chance of making a defective choice, etc.

In knowledge work it also includes:

  • Unclear process, non-understood process, wrong process, erroneous process
  • Failure to solicit feedback, ignoring feedback – feedback cycle too long
  • Disagreement on “best practice”, lack of best practices, and not following them
  • Experiments with no data collection
  • Assuming you actually have the "best" practice

Look for:
  • Customers don't return
  • Focus on “due dates” over quality
  • “Spell check did it”
  • "That's how we've always done it"

Talent Waste

Talent waste is the first of the three additional waste types that have been identified in knowledge work. It is caused by failing to leverage the skills, knowledge and capabilities of the team.

It includes:
  • Timing gap between any training and using that training
  • Lack of training, unused training
  • Only “leaders” in isolation make decisions or are allowed creative activities
  • Non-challenging, repetitive, or boring work
Watch out for:
  • Anytime anyone fails to speak up
  • Command and control management style
  • Anyone left on the bench
  • “What value is my work?”
  • No humor allowed

Resources Waste

Resources waste is redundant, ineffective, or inadequate tools or working conditions.

It includes:
  • Any tool that makes it hard to do the job
  • Tool versus team’s best practice mismatch
  • Forcing a process to fit the tool
  • Letting the tool do your thinking
  • Non-ergonomic desks, noisy work areas, "open plan"
  • Nowhere to work collaboratively, no team space, no physical visual management space
  • Slow equipment (e.g., laptop boot, Wi-Fi bandwidth)

Watch out for:
  • “We’re using tool X so we’re Lean”
  • Working from home in order to think
  • Hunting for conference rooms

By-Products Waste

By-products waste in knowledge work comes from failing to leverage lessons learned, and missing opportunities for skills transfer.

Eliminating by-products waste is the practice of "yokoten", or sharing the learning.

You see by-products waste in:

  • No/few Communities of Practice, “Lunch and Learn” sessions, “Science Fairs”
  • Undocumented Best Practices
  • Un-monitored experiments
  • Abandoned kaizen efforts
  • Kaizen is not part of the team's visual management system
  • Undocumented decisions, meetings without follow up

Look for:
  • “No time to improve, we have work to do”
  • Management owns skills transfer channels
  • Boring retrospectives that go nowhere and accomplish nothing

Mura - Process Stress that Leads to Waste

Process stresses are all those things that prevent flow, that cause turbulence and intrinsically prevent delivery of value.

While these are considered "stress" that cause waste, in the interest of "root cause" resolution I recommend dealing with them directly.

Unevenness stress - waste

Unevenness waste is caused by large variations in the granularity of work items reaching the team.

Please note that teams should have a well-defined (and constantly improved) intake process that breaks work into appropriate "small batch" or one-piece flow work. The "stress" in this waste is due to restrictions on the team that prevent them from owning their own intake process.

Included are:
  • No/ineffective intake/triage/sort process
  • Assigned intake process
  • Multiple customers and “Line jumpers” – everyone wants to be first
  • Missing/incomplete escalation process
  • New work must be “done now”
Watch for:
  • Unable to determine "most important" work item of the day
  • Difficult to “walk the board”
  • “Clogs in the pipe”
  • Customers call team members directly to expedite their pet items

Inconsistency stress - waste

As with Unevenness, Inconsistency is a stress on the process that wastes teams' cognitive skills, problem solving capacity, and forces them to spend time "deciding" what to do rather than actually getting things done.

There are a number of causes, including:
  • "Everything" is a special case
  • No two people do the same thing the same way
  • No visual management system to capture the team's unified understanding
  • Unclear work types/categories
  • No agreement on "best" practice
  • Unclear/missing process transition rules
  • No Kaizen process for continuous improvement (e.g., no PDCA)
Look for:
  • “Three step” process definition (To-do, Doing, Done)
  • “I thought we agreed . . . “
  • "What did we do the last time this happened?"

Muri - People Stress that Leads to Waste

People stress is anything that takes the joy out of work. As Deming's Rule #12 says:

Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship

 Absurdity Stress - Waste

The first kind of people stress is demanding things that are simply ridiculous. In knowledge work this is usually a fundamental disconnect between the people "assigning" work and the people doing the work. Executives who imagine themselves "inspirational"  will claim that asking for the impossible it a legitimate way to challenge the team, and "forces" them to creative levels they would not have obtained on their own.

This is wrong. It is not sustainable. A "creative" death march is still a death march.

But it also comes in less toxic forms that nonetheless diminish teams. They include:
  • Excessive scope
  • Confused scope
  • Undefined minimum viable product
  • No line of sight to customer value
  • Decisions made without team input
Listen for:
  • "Think outside the box"
  • "Steve Jobs demanded a lot from his people, too"
  • "Don't tell me the odds!"

Unreasonableness Stress - Waste

The fundamental cause of unreasonableness stress is an expectation of heroic efforts. Most often the root cause is upstream from the team, decisions made for the team, promises and deadlines that "have to" be met.

It also includes:
  • Leadership needs to "save face"
  • Focus on dates, not quality
  • No business rationale for dates
  • Politics over value (promises made without data)
Watch for:
  • Celebrating and rewarding overtime
  • Tracking hours
  • Crisis mentality
  • Weekend work
  • Using story point (numeric) quotas

Overburden Stress - Waste

Overburden stress comes from violating another of Deming's rules, this time #8:
Drive out fear
The sources of overburden are, sadly, too many to count. A few of them include:
  • More than one manager, delivery lead or  Product Owner
  • No “Andon cord”, negative reaction to Andon Cord
  • Numeric goals or production quotas
  • Leadership decisions are not questioned

Be on the lookout for:
  • “Blamestorming”
  • “Matrix management”
  • Command and control, micromanaging culture
  • Culture of fear, lack of trust, no joy in work 


Waste is the most obvious and immediate was to make improvements. You should expect at 30% reduction in cycle time from creating and reviewing your visual management system. The key is to make everything visible

Kaizen is an ongoing process – you will be in constant cycles of waste removal.

In every activity, every report, metric, meeting, email, . . . constantly ask:
  • What is the customer value in this?
  • Is this really the best way to do this?
  • Are we learning anything from this?
Look “upstream” for resolution – apply Systems Thinking – look for systemic solutions. But don't ignore the simplest: Stop doing the dumb stuff.

Share your learning – create a Kaizen culture. This is a cultural shift. Don't use slogans and rewards.

Develop Eyes for Waste!