Moving through the list of the eight wastes of Lean through this series of articles, we now progress onto a second type of waste. 

May I remind you that we addressed the first waste of Lean, non-quality, through our previous article in this series.

Throughout this article we shall discuss another identified waste in Lean Thinking, this being ‘over-processing’.  Some may find it somewhat confusing when it comes to distinguishing this type of processing waste, however, there are many ways can we find ourselves doing more than we ought to do in the first instance! Perhaps with the right intention of getting an exceptional job done, without being fully aware of what truly adds value… and what does not. 

Employees tend to do their best possible to impress the boss, to please colleagues, to ‘deliver quality’ to the client. On a more personalised level, perhaps one can go over the top to attempt to satisfy his/her partner/better half, or even to attempt to satisfy ourselves!

We might have heard of the term ‘over-engineering’ applied to various situations. Most notably perhaps in environments related to safety systems – which might make us feel like we are in a better place, after all. But how much ‘over’ should we go?

We might find ourselves doing work (any activity) through the deployment of the wrong techniques, or using the wrong tools and equipment, or working to specifications that are set on too tight a tolerance than what is actually required. In such situations we ought to check whether we are indeed overprocessing the task. 

What about in the case of offering what are thought to be features that are, after all, absolutely not required by the expecting user? Possibly even creating additional hassle through our ‘added feature’ offered, by doing more than is required.

All these scenarios contribute towards the risk of finding ourselves getting lost in overprocessing the task. Putting it simply: creating waste!  

And no, overprocessing is not ‘giving the customer that little bit extra’. Overprocessing is the extra work involved in doing things, expending effort, that is simply not required by the customer.  That is quite different!

Some use cases: waste through overprocessing

Let us take some practical illustrations, all of which taken from cases I have come across when dealing with several clients, helping colleagues, or my own personal experiences that I might have gone through myself.

Packaging, logistics and delivery services: protecting the unbreakable

With the current (ongoing?) adaptations we all need to go through, I too have had to undergo some changes in my lifestyle and approach towards doing basic shopping. Rather than run down to the store, I head onto my laptop when I need to buy certain things for myself.

I recently needed to get me some new sportswear, with the intention to empower me to kick start a more physically active week (not socialising much, staying indoors, quarantine periods and all that is getting me rusted recently!) So, I ordered some sportswear through an online portal. I gladly took delivery of this order just a few days ago. Nothing much, a couple of t-shirts for when I shoot off to the court for my weekend tennis match, with some good old friends of mine. 

The pack was delivered on time, intact packaging, and the t-shirts inside were just great! Just what I had ordered. The right size. Perfect fit. I am ready to run off to the tennis court, racket in hand, next weekend, weather permitting!

There was just one concern that made me see red, as I unpacked the package. The very ‘unbreakable’ t-shirts came in a package that was full of polystyrene flakes. Why on Earth would anyone protect a couple of t-shirts with a pack full of annoying bits and pieces of environmentally unfriendly plastics? 

Classic overprocessing waste

The supplier, very likely through mindlessness along parts of the order delivery route, has incurred additional processing, superfluous material and packaging costs and increased cost for freight (the pack was probably twice as bulky as it actually needed to be without the flakes).

Moreover, I now need to go through the unwanted annoyance of getting rid of these pesky things that keep clinging onto everything around – not to mention their ecological adverse impact.  

Overprocessing at its best: additional cost and absolutely no added value – on the contrary, causing me the additional hassle to get rid (in some appropriate manner) of the outrageously static-propagating flakes from my living room!

Clearly, no one at the vendor’s end is thinking about the Lean wastes.

Data processing: duplication of effort and causes for frustration

Another point in case related with overprocessing of data which I have recently been discussing with an international recruiting agency. 

Their job portal application process gathers the job applicant’s basic information, most of which is already uploaded through their standard CV Builder platform functionality. The lack of proper design of their electronic forms request the job applicant to provide the same bits of information in different areas of the agency’s portal.

At face value, this is clearly a duplication of effort (non-value adding tasks) and overprocessing waste. But even more so, it proves to be annoying and frustrating to the already stressed-out job seeker, anxious about searching for new employment.

Causes for overprocessing: vague specifications and lack of standard work

Back within another environment, specifically within a quality assurance lab. Some time back, I was at a client’s facility discussing improvement opportunities for my client. As part of this assignment, the client’s Director for Quality requested from his team of analysts a report covering the business’ quality performance – something we had earlier been discussing. This gentleman wanted to bring back some fact-based information to enable us review and discuss together, as part of our assignment.

The analysts from his office jumped onto their director’s request, digging out all that they thought was relevant data. They had gone through myriad tasks to complete a detailed analysis. They put together a comprehensive report which eventually landed on the Director’s desk a couple of days following the request.

I am not sure about the extent of specification the director requested off his team when asking for this report. 

What I know for certain is that the report presented was probably a hundred times more detailed and elaborate than what I was originally expecting! I merely asked for, and needed, some high-level trends and indications for the last quarter, and not three-decimal place accurate statistics for the last year! 

Perhaps the lack of clarity in the Director for Quality passing on the request, the tendency for the team of analysts to deliver ‘the best’ report ever, and the likelihood of such loyal employees getting lost in an ‘analysis paralysis’ mode, in their desire to provide a complete and far-reaching picture in response to their boss’s request, has all piled up several overprocessing waste elements in the entire process.

Overcoming overprocessing: simplicity and efficiency

We need to think about doing work simply and efficiently. We need to focus on doing what adds value in the eyes of the user (our customer?) – and not go beyond doing what is not necessary and non-value offering (if not, even causing additional hassle – remember the polystyrene flakes in my living room?).  Doing work to ‘tighter tolerance’ than what is required will only make the job more costly for no real added value for the end user.

As discussed in the latter case with the request for a report, the requirement needs to be very clear. The Director for Quality might have vaguely asked for a ‘report’. This might have been one cause for the additional effort and overprocessing undertaken by his team of analysts. Overprocessing is caused by having unclear standards and specifications. One needs to ensure that the needs are clearly specified. Ambiguity creates a lot of question marks, with the likelihood of sending teams on a wild goose chase, and falling into the analysis paralysis trap!

A second thought behind this case might have been the lack of standardised reporting structures within the company. The team of analysts jumped on creating a specific (or, what they thought was best, and requested) report that they had to pull together to (hopefully) satisfy the request from their boss. This lack of standardised work (reports, in this case) might have been another cause for the team to get engulfed into the detailed effort to deliver ‘the best solution’ they could think of.  The request might have been easier managed if the company had standard reports that were agreed and approved upon, and which related the required business facts.

When a business engages on activities that are ‘over-engineered’, it finds itself doing work and spending effort on tasks that are not necessarily required. This no doubt will incur additional costs, use of unnecessary material, utilisation of staff and resources, additional wear of equipment, and so on. Consider the opportunity cost of the effort being spent on more value-adding tasks. Try putting a cumulative Euro-value to all this waste! 

Money aside, think about the frustration caused to your employees, the suppliers, your customers, and other stakeholders and interested parties. 

Net result: loss of trust, and reduced confidence in your procedures and operational systems!

Avoid over polishing and finishing the service or product to a level that goes beyond what the end user would ever desire, or even want to bother with! Especially if this means additional cost, longer waiting times, or even more hassle for the end user to cope with the net product or service offered.

Over-processing results from excessive processing: spending more effort than what is really needed in delivering products and/or services. This will ultimately lead to an unnecessary wasteful process.  Excess processing of data, information and materials, resources and people effort, and the use of top-heavy systems, does not necessarily add more value to the ultimate outcome.

In a world where many crave for building efficiency and reducing costs, it goes without saying that process owners need to feel encouraged to take a critical look at their activities and identify such opportunities for eliminating wasteful tasks, and to get down to real action at actually doing something to reduce as much waste as possible.

There are various ways for reducing overprocessing waste, some ideas range from keeping the end-user in mind before designing the appropriately planned business processes needed for delivering services and goods to providing the right processing environment needed for creating the value.

Ing. Joseph Micallef is a freelance Consulting Advisor, bringing with him over 30 years’ worth of experience across various sectors. Working in areas related with quality, lean, business process transformation and project execution and programme management he can be contacted directly on m +356 9982 2244 or e: [email protected]

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