The Hidden Waste Lurking in Your Operation

The 8th Waste in Lean Operations

If you have spent any amount of time in or around Lean Manufacturing, you no doubt have heard of the Seven Waste originating from the Toyota Production System (TPS).
For those not familiar with those waste, the list looks like this (the order changes depending on your source but for the sake of using the TIMWOOD acronym we will use the following sequence)
1. Transporting
2. Inventory
3. Motion
4. Waiting
5. Overproduction
6. Over / Excess Processing
7. Defects
An internet search will return numerous good reads on the above list so I will turn the focus to a lesser known but oft included 8th waste. The additional waste category may take on differing names such as Human Potential, Not-Utilizing Talent, Non-Utilized Talent, Skills, etc. Regardless of the name, the waste stream is real and left unresolved can lead to frustration and disengaged employees. Examples of this category of waste include employees asked to follow blindly without empowerment, mismatching employee skill sets to the designated role, disregarding personality types, or asking employees to complete work with little perceived value. It is this last idea that will be explored below in the form of data administration.

Hidden Waste

Data administration can easily hide in the chasm between the manufacturing line and the front office. The manufacturing line gets plenty of attention to its waste: scrap rate, 1st pass yield, rework, downtime, etc. In the operations leadership and management environment data administration waste sometimes goes unchecked, though certainly not unnoticed by those suffering the consequences of processes with built in repetitive data administration. While at times necessary, data administration can lead to excess hours of non-value-added work, and generally becomes an anchor holding down the continuous improvement process.

Let’s address this form of waste with a fictional example of production data tracking.


Manual Data Tracking

ACME Cycles is a contract manufacturer of bicycles branded for small market bicycle shops. Business has been strong, and the backlog is growing. Pressure is starting to mount as the spring sales season is coming. Any missed delivery targets will become lost sales opportunities. Samantha is the Plant Manager and wants to track the number of units produced per hour, defects/issues observed on the line, scrap, and work stoppage (downtime). Samantha has created a form to track each category of information and assigned John, the tandem cycle assembly line leader, to ensure the form is completed and turned in at the end of the shift for his line. Each of the assembly lines has a similar process. At the end of the shift, the line leaders are tasked with entering the information into a spreadsheet for the next 30 minutes (or 60 if there are higher than normal downtime and defect issues for the day), except for the unicycle line as they always seem to be doing their own thing. Once the data is entered, the line leader then spends another 30 minutes updating charts and creating a summary for review by the operations team at their stand up meeting the next morning. Great, we have a well-defined process, each person knows their role, and information is made available the next day for review and follow up. But wait, we are going through a lot of paper and the customer doesn’t really care to pay for that cost. What about John? Would the customer be more willing to pay for his time pushing paper and updating spreadsheets or making defect free bicycles?


Transitioning to Electronic Data Submission – Leads to Shifting, Not Solving

Samantha finds the information valuable but recognizes the opportunity to improve the process. She really needs John present at the line to keep the team on track. The pressure to deliver on time continues to mount so she would also like to have the information available for review at the midpoint of the shift as well as the end of the shift. The team decides to change the process and have the operators enter their information directly into a spreadsheet (to eliminate paper and the data entry by John). The team goes full speed ahead by putting PC’s on the line for operators to input their data and creates spreadsheet templates and shared folder storage system for each line to maintain their respective information. John doesn’t have time to update the spreadsheets at the midpoint of the shift and is now working overtime to keep pace with the busy season. Ernesto, Operation Team Lead, is now tasked with extracting information from each assembly line’s spreadsheet and merging it into a master spreadsheet across all assembly lines. John is feeling better because he is no longer spending 30-60 minutes per day administering spreadsheets and charts and is back on the line leading the team where he feels most fulfilled. Samantha likes the twice per day updates which allows the team to make corrections to the process sooner. What about Ernesto? We have only managed to shift the data administration from one role to another, but it still exists, and we have started down the path of spreadsheet chaos. And the customer? The bicycle will take them somewhere and give them enjoyment such that they will gladly trade their hard-earned money for the expertly assembled frame, wheels, and pedals. However, they can’t ride a spreadsheet and therefore still not interested in paying for the time spent on data administration and creating charts.


Avoid Burn Out – Finding the Right Tool for the Job

Thankfully, Samantha is an experienced operations leader with a lean background. She is engaged with her team and recognizes that Ernesto is now thrust into a situation where he is burning repetitive energy collecting and collating information for the rest of the team. Ernesto is staying at work extra hours each week in order to keep up with the original workload and the newly added data administration requirements that shifted his way when the team made the move to twice daily updates. Samantha and her team have benefitted from the information they have been collecting and analyzing, yet she doesn’t want her team to suffer the burnout and frustration associated with spreadsheet chaos and the waste in the data administration of the process.
Samantha does her research and finds the perfect solution for her team. She has found a web-based tool that allows her team to configure the forms to enhance their process. They can now capture all the input at the source and bypass the spreadsheet. The team has already defined their KPI’s so they build report templates that can be used by each assembly line individually or rolled up at the plant level. The reports are then dropped onto a dashboard to be used by the team during the daily stand up meetings. No longer is it necessary for John, Ernesto, Samantha, or any other member of the team to spend an hour or two per day working on data administration. The data collected at the assembly line flows into the dashboards in real time. John is feeling supported by his management team because not only has the new real time analytics tool made data entry even easier, but he now has a tool that can provide real time notifications to his support network when his line is experiencing issues. His team has red/yellow/green visual indicators that help them see when they are falling behind the schedule. The real time visibility leads to seeking assistance sooner and there are no more surprises at the end of the shift. Ernesto is relieved to remove the repetitive data administration tasks from his job description and is back to leaving work on time and assisting with his daughter’s soccer practices that he has been missing for the past two months. Samantha not only has a happy and engaged team, she now has real time status tracking of the operations and doesn’t need to wait for the twice daily updates to find out if they are gaining ground on the delivery backlog.

While the story above may be fiction, similar situations are being played out in manufacturing operations all over the world. There is a somewhat typically maturation process that companies go through starting with paper, then hybrid, then fully electronic. There are even some lean practitioners in the school of thought that tracking on paper/white boards forces a better level of engagement and brings awareness to the information being collected and that electronic tracking is not beneficial. [That topic of debate is worth its own article in the future]


Spaghetti Systems

As a company attempts to improve their process over a period of years, maybe decades, it is commonplace to end up with different solutions for each department. Quality has a tool for nonconformance and defect tracking and possibly another software solution for gage and calibration management. The continuous improvement leader has a tool for tracking events and projects. Production uses a different set of tools to manage productivity and efficiency. Don’t forget about maintenance, someone needs to keep all those lines running and with that team comes their own CMMS to track work orders and planned maintenance activity. Somewhere in all this software spaghetti mess is the big CRM meatball.

Scattered Information

With all these systems in place, the organization might be feeling good about having electronic tools to track their key processes within each department. However, it is then that they find themselves back to the data administration frustration, albeit one layer up (i.e. shifted) on the org chart, because the systems do not talk to each other. At this point, the managers are extracting information from each of their respective systems and putting them into the top-level management presentation formats for review.


Thrive Software Platform for Operations

You may be wondering, what if that same tool that Samantha engaged for operations productivity and efficiency tracking also contained all the tools needed by the quality, continuous improvement, safety, and maintenance departments? Imagine the benefits to the management team if a single dashboard could show the KPI from each department in real time. Consider the training benefits for employees that transfer from one department to another and no longer need to learn to use a new software tool, but rather just adapt current skills to a new set of departmental processes and procedures. If such a system existed, wouldn’t that mean that facility work request that I entered on my mobile phone while walking into work this morning, the customer complaint call our quality team took a few minutes ago, and the five units that just left the assembly line headed for the shipping dock are already on my dashboard? The answer is an emphatic Yes!
The above scenario may sound like more fiction, but this is where Lean Technologies turns this story into reality using the Thrive software platform.

If you would like to hear from Thrive users experiencing this new reality, check out the videos page.

or want to talk to someone on the Lean Technologies team about transforming your reality, drop us a note

By |2019-09-24T17:30:52+00:00September 24th, 2019|Manufacturing, Productivity Tools, Thoughts|0 Comments

We Thrive. ASSA ABLOY EMS in Phoenix

At Lean Technologies, we are focused on solving customer problems and providing year over year value to client organizations. One such client is ASSA ABLOY where we work with a number of the North America sites. Although the name ASSA ABLOY may not yet be a household name in North America, you are likely to be familiar with one of their many popular brands of entry systems. In fact, you probably scanned an access card, turned a handle, or walked through one of their doors the last time you entered a school, hotel, hospital, or workplace. ASSA ABLOY is the global leader in door opening solutions and a market leader in most of Europe, North America, South America, China and Oceania. The EMS Division plant in Phoenix, AZ called upon Thrive Goal Boards to solve a particular need on the plant floor to monitor production activity, provide real time feedback to the operators, communicate performance to management, and track day to day performance gains.

The operations team leaders at ASSA ABLOY EMS were gracious enough to sit down with a video crew so we could share a little bit of their Thrive experience with the rest of the world. We are thankful for their willingness to participate in this video and continued use of Thrive throughout their organization.


For more information, contact the Lean Tech team at or fill out the contact form on our website


Heads up, your business may be drowning

My friend Sam Duregger (@duregger) pointed me to an article about the obsessive-ness people have developed with their smartphones.

The article opens with a story about a man who was so engaged with his smartphone he didn’t notice the bathtub water he was filling for his daughter was overflowing onto the floor.  Why is this technology so engaging?  What is going on in peoples’ heads?  The article explains it with this:

It is because they are human, and human beings tend to repeat actions that are pleasurable and rewarding, particularly if they get our endorphins flowing. The complication is that we devalue delayed rewards — the feeling, for instance, of looking back on lovely moments with family — in favor of the immediacy of the new. In this case, it’s data. It makes us high.

Meeting short-term expectations of investors or the board is the smartphone of the business world.  The short term rewards feel good, and people want businesses to produce similar results time and again.  The reality is those short-sighted goals can lead to painful long-term results (and not always for the people setting those objectives, unfortunately).  This description at least gives me some perspective on why any business could possibly be short-sighted…this smartphone mentality simply transfers to their approach to business.

Hey, and for fun, the article even gives an example you can try out on your friends!

Get some friends together and tell them you will give them $100 now or $200 next year. Most of them, he said, will take the $100. Now tell them they can have $100 in 10 years or $200 in 11 years. Most will take the $200 because there is nothing immediate, or more exciting, fogging up their calculation about which is the greater reward.

Lean is for the long haul.  Lean focuses on building long-term value: for customers, for employees, for stake-holders.  You may not see the results in Q1 of implementation.  Endurance is needed.  But if you stick with it, the results will come and will be sustained long after the other guy’s bathtub is spilling onto the floor.

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By |2010-03-16T11:26:15+00:00March 16th, 2010|Business, Manufacturing|2 Comments

Don’t wait for recovery, lead the recovery

"We’re cutting R & D."

"We have money right now, we’re just not spending any of it." (something I heard from a potential client of mine in the last few months)

A VP I was speaking to at a large manufacturer said a mistake their organization made in 2001 was to not invest capital in the future, and they’re still recovering from that.

A client of mine I spoke to last week said a company he used to work for cut back spending in R & D about 10 years ago and never recovered from decision.

Mark Perry says recovery is on its way:


But I hope that if people hear this news, that they’re not just waiting for it to happen.  Recovery requires action, which won’t happen in the form of a handout.  And there’s no better time to take action than during a down economy.

Get back to work.

By |2009-02-03T13:42:31+00:00February 3rd, 2009|Business, Manufacturing|0 Comments

Lean operations is like wingsuit base jumping

What?!  Yeah, okay, maybe it’s a stretch.  But bear with me.  Maybe I was desperately searching for a way to include this cool video, but if nothing else, you’ll get to see a really cool video.

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

In lean manufacturing, people talk about "lowering the water level" by minimizing inventory.  This exposes the "rocks" of waste that exist on the shop floor.  You know who they are.  There are seven, right?  Oh wait, is it eight now?  Is it TOM D WIP or WORM PITT, TIMWOOD, or DOTWIMP?  I think And when your ship "S.S. Operations" starts encountering those rocks, it hurts!

But it’s all about risk/reward.  So you lower your inventory levels.  It may feel like greater risk because you’ll expose quality problems, excessive transportation, rework labor.  But the rewards can be so much greater.  Increase profitability.  Increase customer satisfaction.  Take market share.

The wingsuit base jumpers could ride safely away from the shear cliffs.  But where’s the reward in that?  They have chosen to decrease the space between them and problems, and have increased the reward of having a significantly better experience.

Not the best analogy?  Okay.  Whatever.  Enjoy the video.

By |2009-01-22T11:50:32+00:00January 22nd, 2009|Fun, Manufacturing|0 Comments

2009 will be the year of lean

John Shook at Lean Enterprise Institute says lean is “just what the doctor ordered” for 2009 and is hoping for a better year.

Brian Buck expects creativity and innovation to arrive on the scene.

Jon Miller talks about how Tom Vilsack might bring lean to the federal level (hooray!).

Kevin Meyer suggests Toyota could use some of its lean knowledge to energize the rest of the automotive industry.

In the lean software arena, “Mastering the Recession with Lean, Agile, and Scrum.”

And have you seen all the lean people that are now on Twitter?  Brian Buck and I surmised it must be some kind of New Year’s resolution.  Regardless the cause, there’s any obvious effort to get the word out about the value of lean, and Twitter is another tool to spread the word.  Here are the lean tweeps I’m currently following (I’m sure there are more): @brianbuck, @evanjmiller, @GembaPantaRei, @gerrykirk, @giladl, @GotBoondoggle, @leanblog, @lssacademy, @matthewemay, @mglombard, @Paulflevy, @RalfLippold, @Rwilliard, @shmula, @superfactory, UPDATE: @lizguthridge

If you aren’t creating value for customers…if you aren’t eliminating waste…if you aren’t respecting your people, this won’t be your year.  This is true now more than ever, as consumers and business get more picky about where they’re going to put their resources, and as the personal savings rate has actually gone up (this is a good thing since it had gone negative, but indicates spending will be tighter!).

Don’t think lean is drawing attention?  Check out the search terms people are using lately.  This is drawn from the Google Keyword Search Tool.  I just checked out “lean manufacturing” as an example.  In the month of December, there was an 18% increase in the interest in the term “lean manufacturing” over the average of the previous 12 months (the totals of the entire result set were 109,459 for December versus 92,808 for the average).


And this is just the term “lean manufacturing”.  What about all of the other arenas like healthcare, software, and others?  Even just the term “lean” has a WHOPPING 50% increase (2,740,000 for December versus 1,830,000 prior 12-month average).  Granted, “lean” in this case might include people looking to improve their physical fitness, but regardless this is a huge jump.

Where are people conducting these searches?  For that info, check out this cool tool.  It gives you a “heat map” of where these searches are being conducted (US data only).


Principles that started in manufacturing have spread to so many different arenas.  And why not?  Look at how Tom and Mary Poppendieck describe the principles within software development:

The seven principles of Lean Software development are:

  • Respect people
  • Eliminate waste
  • Defer commitment
  • Create knowledge
  • Deliver fast
  • Build quality in
  • Optimize the whole

Sound familiar?  Manufacturing, healthcare, education, services, construction, government, and software development have all found how valuable these principles are.  Granted the tools and practices probably look different from one to the next, but the principles are constant.

(side note…I’m now going to use the phrase “deferring commitment” instead of “procrastinating”…it sounds a lot better! 🙂 )

Maybe we should organize a big “lean-fest” or lean tweetup to exchange ideas across industries and share best (or better, as some are now saying) practices (maybe the Lean Global Network is already doing this?).  A nice, central-US location might be nice.  Say…Pella, Iowa (street view from Google Maps)?

Lean people on Twitter, anyone up for FriendFeed?

Hopefully making for some more useful conversation, I’m starting to find some more lean people on Twitter.  I’m starting to connect with people around the world that I otherwise would never meet.  Here they are in no particular order:

Are there more?  I’m sure they’re out there.  We could get some groups going…would really like to do this on FriendFeed though (see below).

I can be found here:  I try to stay on the manufacturing side of things, but am generally interested in all things lean.  I, of course, develop software (primarily for manufacturing, but even that scope has crept a bit) and am interested in what’s happening in that arena as well.

What I’d really like to get going, though, is some more active participation on  I think it’s a much better place to share information and have conversations.  Maybe there’s already some lean stuff happening there, and I’m just not aware of it?  Please let me know if that’s the case.  I’m here:

By |2009-01-02T12:50:20+00:00January 2nd, 2009|Healthcare, Manufacturing, People, Technology|2 Comments

Friday Lean and Manufacturing Rundown

Lean Enterprise Institute has a blog now.  I was waiting for them to start one up.  John Shook is the primary author (maybe only?).  You can find it at

Just before Thanksgiving, Kevin Meyer shared this great post (and I’ve been passing along to others) on how American Apparel continues to succeed.  On a related note, I mentor high school students and for some odd reason we were talking about favorite T-shirts earlier this week and one student commented, “I love American Apparel shirts.”  So, wow, not only do they run a good company, but they’re also hip (“hip” is really probably a very outdated term…I think we’re way past “dope”, “the bomb”, and “fly” too so I’m not sure what to call it)!

A few perspectives on the Big 3: one from Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei: “With Competitors Like These, Who Needs a Winning Business Strategy?” and another from Tom Peters entitled “Service?  Sacrifice?  Equity?  Honor?” and one final one expressed in the cartoon below:


I guess this one isn’t necessarily directly manufacturing related, but I’ve been enjoying Mark J Perry’s economic analysis from his blog.  He’s a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan.  He also shares some amusing items, including this road map to “success” (shown below) and this bailout application.


Incidentally, I share a lot of this stuff on which is a great place to have a discussion about these items, and I would be glad to follow you on Twitter…you can find me at  Hopefully see you there!

UPDATE: John Shook weighs in on the LEI blog on the Big 3 and provides this interesting insight: “GM wants to survive, all right, it wants to survive so it can continue to make money. Toyota on the other hand, wants to make money to survive.”

Also, I’ve often thought I’ve used my lean background in meeting customer needs with software, but beginning next week, we’ll see what I really know about lean methodology as applied to software as I start attending their Lean On-line Learning for Lean Software Development.

By |2008-12-05T15:53:21+00:00December 5th, 2008|Manufacturing, People|Comments Off on Friday Lean and Manufacturing Rundown

Thrive software referenced in ISO audit in a positive light!

Had to add “in a positive light” because being mentioned in an ISO audit may not be a good thing, but in this case it definitely was.  For those wondering about how Thrive can support your ISO certification, it is definitely a “value add”.  Here’s what was said in a recent audit:

The investment in tools like Thrive for a common communication platform is evidence of the organizations commitment to “….a dedicated focus on continual improvement” as stated in your Quality Policy.

To my knowledge, this is the first “in print” reference to Thrive in an audit, but I have spoken to two other auditors at other clients before who have said that Thrive exceeded their expectations for how software could support an ISO certified organization.

By |2008-10-30T10:13:38+00:00October 30th, 2008|Business, Information Management, Manufacturing|Comments Off on Thrive software referenced in ISO audit in a positive light!
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