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!

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