The eight deadly sins of waste

[This post has been amended]
One of things I haven’t ever itemized is waste. Taiichi Ohno (of Toyota) identified seven types of waste (muda). An eighth form of waste came from Womack and Jones. The eight forms of waste can be identified as:

1. Motion
2. Delay or waiting
3. Conveyance (moving things around)
4. Correction (defects)
5. Overprocessing
6. Inventory
7. Overproduction
8. Knowledge disconnection or underutilization of resources

By the way, I found a great little book on lean for beginners. It’s called Lean Production Simplified by Pascal Dennis. It is very plain speaking and assumes you know nothing. It’s simple without being simplistic. Now, back to defining muda (waste).

The waste of Motion
First you have to know there are 3 kinds of motion (I’m using the book I listed above as a checklist as I write). While not all kinds of motion are waste, some are.
1. Actual work is good. This is anything that adds value to the product such as sewing a seam.
2. Auxiliary work means work that supports actual work. This could mean separating two pieces from a bundle in order to join them.
3. Muda is motion that has creates no value. A great example of muda is basting a seam to set a zipper as it’s done in home sewing. The basting will be removed; it’s not adding value to the product. Some motion waste can be defined as ergonomics. If an operation creates a repetitive stress injury, this is waste.

The waste of Delay
You can usually spot this quickly because it means people are standing around waiting for something else to happen so they can do their part of the process. An example is not being able to sew while waiting for a mechanic to show up. Cutters waiting for the marker to arrive is another delay waste. While small delays may seem insignificant, they all add up.

The waste of Conveyance
The things needed to do the job are not at hand so you either have to go get them or take them to where they’re needed. Having to go and get them is delay by motion, both of which are waste themselves.

The waste of Correction (defects)
Do I really need to give an example of this? It always takes less time to make something right than it does to make it poorly and then correct it after the fact. The science to this is eliminating the mistakes that people constantly make. Poka yokes are essential for correction prevention.

The waste of Overprocessing
This is a particularly insidious form of waste because it causes you to examine which of your processes -or even product- are necessary. The basted zipper seam above is an example. Much of this waste is administrative, such as needing 8 signatures to sign off on something. Some overprocessing waste are features in a product that the customer does not care about (is not willing to pay for) but the company hasn’t figured that out.

The waste of Inventory
Boy, this is always a hard one for accountants or anyone who’s internalized the idea that inventory are assets. While inventory has value, it may not have the same value as it ages, particularly in our business. If your money’s tied up in inventory that’s less money you have to work with. The other day I’d mentioned product development (patterns and prototypes) were inventory if they’re batch produced in anticipation for market. In manufacturing, if you sell off your inputs inventory and excess styles, you’ll rarely get what you either paid for them or had anticipated getting for them…so how is this an asset? It’s waste.

The waste of Overproduction
This is another hairy topic. In general, people like excess stuff -just in case. Personally, I think we’re biologically hardwired to hoard. Farmers will overproduce, people overprocess with food and drink; I just don’t think we as a species are into moderation. Overproduction is a problem because you’ll need space to store WIP (work in process), you’ll need a storage unit at best. You’ll need people to move your stuff around (see conveyance-waste, motion-waste, inventory-waste, delay-waste). Unfortunately, much of our business is based on batch production which is over production. Ideally, you’d only produce the parts you’d need to make a given product after the order was received. This is easier to do with cars than corn. You can order one car and it’ll be made to order but you can’t order up one serving of corn. Some industries will have more overproduction waste than others. I believe apparel and agriculture are related in that some overproduction is unavoidable if nothing, due to batch processing.

The waste of Knowledge Disconnection/Underutilization of resources
This refers to the waste of administrative disconnectedness within a company and or its suppliers and customers. Such disconnections are barriers to creativity, innovation and knowledge which can create excess costs, missed opportunities and frustration. An example would be if a designer didn’t design a certain style or feature because she thought that her people wouldn’t know how to put it together. Designers do this all of the time! An example is a designer who -doesn’t sew well even if she thinks she does- doesn’t design a lined jacket with welt pockets because she thinks it’s too hard to sew. It’s easy to pick out these lines; they’re not finished professionally, not crisp and look simplistic rather than simple.

Anyway, these are the seven (+1) deadly sins of manufacturing and they’re all waste. Get the book I recommended. I think you’ll like it.

I am really excited that everyone seems to understand the connection to waste, resources and sustainability. In that vein, please see Chapter Seven (available free online) of Natural Capitalism. It’s one of the best written examples of waste vs sustainability etc. Very good, well written read. And it’s free!

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  1. “An example is a designer who -doesn’t sew well even if she thinks she does- doesn’t design a lined jacket with welt pockets because she thinks it’s too hard to sew.”

    I see the exact opposite more often–designers sketching things that are impossible to put together or mass produce efficiently because they don’t understand garment construction that well. I think the biggest waste is designers who don’t understand garment construction, which of course goes back to the concept of the waste of correction.

  2. Susan McElroy says:

    Verbal Croquis, what would be an example of something like you describe? As an aspiring designer who has a lot of experience in home sewing, I would be more likely to fall under Kathleen’s description. But I also have such an admiration of the things quality factories can turn out, especially recently, I’m not coming up with any mental pictures of something impossible to put together or mass produce.

  3. Susan McElroy says:

    I’d like to add another “slash” to the last item, knowledge disconnection/underutilization…etc. I don’t know a single word for this, but it was inspired by the idea that we as a species might be hard-wired to hoard. We’re also hard-wired I think to refuse to let go of secret cherished emotional/social/political agendas. These show up in the darndest places–like the refusal to get rid of bad purchases because it reminds us of our “stupidity” in buying some piece of equipment that wasn’t what we really needed. To continue with this example, a manager might insist that workers keep using this bad equipment supposedly so as to “not waste” what was bought, but the ongoing wastage due to the inappropriate equipment sets up a stream of continuous waste that might never stop until the manager moves on or the darned thing dies completely. Our collective fear of being outsmarted by an “inferior” is another real devil of waste. Just because a particular procedure (my experience here is in office management; maybe some factory experts can give examples in that environment?) is understood and well-practiced by a manager, he/she might insist on continuing it even in its inefficiency because of the fear of seeming dumb in the eyes of “lower” workers during that scary time when the new process gets learned. What if an “inferior” catches on quicker? What if the manager never “gets” it? I wonder sometimes if this particular form of muda is related to the prima donna designer who feigns superiority over the factory attempting to work with him/her. Arrogance is often a thin face-saving veneer over the fear of being “caught in the act” of being or seeming stupid.

  4. Vesta says:

    I have been absolutely enamoured with this whole “lean” discussion in general, and muda, in particular. We have been dealing with the issues this year, just under different names. Your jaw will drop when you read this, I think.

    Preface: We’ve been contracting out our sewing for about 3 years. We started with a local woman who charged too much and couldn’t sew very well (sigh). Finally found a contractor over the internet who was willing to work with a micro-company (bless them). But we very quickly overwhelmed them as our volume grew, and kept using patches to get through the rough spots. When the dust settled about a year later and I looked at our manufacturing process:
    -Fabric shipped to cutter in SoCal (because sewing contractor couldn’t keep up with cutting AND sewing).
    -Finished cuts shipped to NoCal (yes, shipped, by UPS)
    -Finished product shipped BACK to SoCal (yes, shipped, by UPS).
    -Product inspected, folded (actually RE-folded), and bagged.
    -Product shipped to customers.

    When things were running smoothly, it was taking at least two months from ordering fabric to receiving inventory at the warehouse. But things haven’t been running smoothly since August, and we are still receiving inventory from Aug/Sep POs.

    The happy way to look at all of this is that there are so many ways to cut muda out of this chain that it’s very satisfying (and profitable) to do any one correction. Talk about glass half full . . .

    One obvious way to become more lean would be for us to bring the sewing in-house. But that’s not our business, and we’ve evaluated the effort/costs involved in going that route and decided against it for now. So our particular challenge is to become as lean as possible within the context of designer/contractor relationships. Oh, and we’re carrying MASSIVE amounts of inventory, to compensate for the completely unpredictable production timelines.


  5. Susan McElroy says:

    I said that there was fear of seeming stupid in the eyes of a work-related “inferior”–I wasn’t thinking of the opposite–fear of seeming incompetent in the eyes of a boss. One can continue to do things the old, inefficient way because it doesn’t make waves or upset the apple cart (even temporarily) which might make a manager look bad in the eyes of his/her work superior.

    I read somewhere that the number one reason people go into business for themselves (at least in normal economic times)is not for reasons of more pay or even more freedom, but for the ability to control one’s work environment, and “crazy” emotionally-charged, negative work environment is supposedly the most common reason for leaving. I’ve also heard that the cartoonist for Dilbert has so many examples of workplace craziness that are sent to him by readers that he claims to have years’ worth of material for the strip.

  6. Susan McElroy says:

    Vesta, our posts crossed…didn’t mean to change your subject.

    So what will be your future solution? This is the sort of thing that literally glazes my eyes over when I think of garment production. Will you move to a larger cut-sew operation?

    I’m a big fan of the “green” movement (including “lean”) that insists that the costs to the environment due to all this (for example) fossil fuel being burned to get “stuff” from one place to another should be added into the equation. Of course that’s impossible at this point, but it overwhelms my sense of lean that pieces of fabric are shipped great distance to be sewn together and shipped back or to other places to get manipulated by human hands in some other way, to get sorted and inspected and then shipped somewhere else only to be finally shipped to the customer. And of course if the customer is a retail location, the end customer has to burn fuel to get there. And if it doesn’t fit, then it’s muda-in-the-back-of-the-closet… There’s got to be a better way…

  7. jinjer says:

    keep using this bad equipment supposedly so as to “not waste” what was bought, but the ongoing wastage

    Speaking of which, i was surprise that “using the incorrect person/tool for the job” wasn’t on the list, since that is a form of waste Kathleen has mentioned over and over.

    Susan, I’m interested in books or blogs or other resources you’ve been reading about green. Your summary of it is so perfectly aligned with the elements of green that interest me…

  8. kathleen says:

    I continue to be dismayed -utterly dismayed- by the lack of interest in lean manufacturing in green circles; there’s no mention of it whatsoever!

    Recently, I’ve been corresponding with Gil Friend (natlogic/ find him at and he seems genuinely interested. I am ***really trying hard*** to not get my hopes up but he’s someone who could really get the word out to the sustainable community. Btw, I wish I’d added this link to my post..oh what the heck, I can amend it but read this: it’s chapter 7 of natural capitalism

  9. “Verbal Croquis, what would be an example of something like you describe?”

    I mainly meant in terms of price point. Anything can be made if you’re working for a couture house. But if you’re a designer for a juniors company, there is only so much intricate sewing you can add to a garment. So many designers work under the supposition that that their work should not be compromised, but the reality is that if something can’t fit cost-wise, the garment is never going to be produced. Also, if something takes too long to make, or if the possibility of error in sewing is too large for it to be practical; these are all things a designer should take into consideration, in terms of their target customer/price point.

    Other than price point, there are plenty of examples. Just because it can be drawn, doesn’t mean it can be made. Poor designers forget that things need to be washed, be able to be put on by themselves, and the wearer needs to hail a cab, sit on a couch, cross their legs, etc. in a garment. It seems simple, but there are designers out there who are so involved in their “vision” that they forget the simplest things.

    Not to knock all designers, of course; I happen to be one myself.

  10. christy fisher says:

    Designers need to know how to SEW A GARMENT.
    I know there are many who do not agree with me..but if you do not know how to construct what you design, then it is going to cost you 10 times as much hassle to produce the darned thing as if you knew what you were doing in the first place. (muda)

  11. Susan McElroy says:

    Jinjer, I started off with Paul Hawkins’ books Growing a Business and then Natural Capitalism. That led to Cradle to Cradle (a book published not on paper but a form of plastic that can be wiped clean and reused–totally waterproof. I wanted to bring it to the office and submerge it in a pan of water to demonstrate another way to look at “recycling” but I’m still a new hire and don’t want to seem too weird) Look up Natural Capitalism on Amazon and follow the suggested links and you’re on your way. The books on Toyota that’ve been recommended here are on my bookshelf but haven’t been read carefully yet but I’ve scanned them and have read reviews. By the way, I always read the buyer reviews of books on Amazon–you’d be amazed at how much you can learn from them. Anyway, these are messy references but today’s been busy and I’m ready to crash.

  12. Hal says:

    Lauri Koskela suggests the eighth waste is “making do” — using tools, methods, materials, etc. that are not what was intended.

    Greg Howell and I proposed two great wastes: not speaking and not listening. It takes constant leadership to avoid these inevitable sources of waste.

  13. Eric H says:

    I just realized today that we tend to inventory time when there is a lot of variation in earlier processes or unreliability in our own. That is probably especially true on projects and in industries like construction.

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