Lean is about flow. Once the flow is restricted, slowed down or in any way interrupted through some form or fashion, this is going to result in some kind of delay, and consequently, a wait state.

Because waiting is an outcome from flow interruption, therefore this provides sufficient logic that translates waiting to waste.

Understanding the process flow, and identifying all those opportunities where a wait state can be introduced, and doing something to eliminate, reduce or contain that wait state, is one sure way of reducing process waste.

At home

Think of yourselves during the morning rush, getting ready to dash off to the office, only to realise just how long the you have to wait for the coffee machine to heat up before you can brew your much needed first espresso. 

Those little frustrations that pile up inside of us are just enough to start our day on the wrong footing.

Not to mention the irritation of waiting upon the kids to get out of the shower, whilst insisting hard not to be late for your booked movie show.

On the phone

Call any service provider’s Customer Care number (your bank, your telecom provider, your dentist) only to find yourself waiting for a generous amount of time – listening to some annoying repeated voice-over message playing atop some distorted non-artistic music – before a Customer Care agent picks up the call. 

Customer what?  Probably anything but customer care!

… as if my time is not of value.

… as if it is OK for the customer to wait until the next available agent turns up on the call. 

Are we really matching demand and supply here?  And why does one need to call the Customer Care number in the first instance? But, never mind that for the time being.

On the road

Interrupting the flow of cars as they pull into a roundabout creates a slow-moving flow, tailing back to a complete halt some cars upstream. The interruption in flow:

  • the traffic jam,
  • the crossing lights,
  • the vehicle that stops at the wrong spot on the road just to pick up their hailing passengers (never mind the double yellow street markings!)

These all force you to slow down, or stop completely, and all create disruption in the flow – congestion on the roads – and weary drivers waiting behind the wheel, hoping to inch their way through to their ultimate destination.

All reasons to interrupting flow will cause delays and waiting. Therefore, waste!

At the office

How many purchase order documents do you have stuck at the boss’s desk, waiting his review and approval, before onward processing the order through to your suppliers?

Have you ever considered the cumulative time you spend staring blankly at your screen, waiting for all the processing (number crunching) to be meticulously done as your computer generates and loads a report you requested a minute or two before?

At a company I worked for many years ago, for a daily meeting we attended for, we had all decided to pitch in 1c for every minute one is late in attending. We had a fishbowl set in the middle of the boardroom table. Before starting each meeting, the bowl would jingle happily at the sounds of the various coins being tossed into it by each late-comer. 

Soon enough, we had saved enough money in the kitty to treat us all to a wine and pizza night!

Have you considered the company time wasted, and opportunity costs involved, in repeatedly having to wait for your meetings to kick off? 

Similarly, the impact and its effects from waiting for that approval to be granted by the boss?

Within the warehouse

Another wait, or perhaps idle, situation is generally associated with inventory management bad practices. I see clients seeking to increase the sizes of their warehouses, to hold more stock (which is fine), whilst a significant percentage of existing storage space is underutilised; possibly holding obsolete inventory, storing the wrong items, or because of disorganised (non-5S) inventory holding, and so on. 

Such inventory that finds itself idle (perhaps works-in-progress (WIP) in between manufacturing stages, or finished good-for-sale product sitting in warehouses) results in what could possibly be significant capital and associated costs that are unnecessarily tied up. 

Waiting waste is the result of unbalanced workflows – think of these, not just within a tangible (manufacturing) industry only, but also within the intangible (administrative and service) sectors as well.

Accumulation of wait states

In alignment with the previous article in this series (addressing motion waste), big or small, even apparently minor wait states can be catalysts for greater waste! An apparently insignificant waiting period within a process can well be an instigator to other forms of consequential waste (example: distraction of focus as a result of a wait delay may lead one to shifting focus on other non-core matters!).

Reducing waiting waste

Balancing your chain of activities (cycle time, Takt time in operational management) should help at reducing wait states in between stages of a process.

Not allowing interruptions in the flow of a process (for example, by minimising the opportunity for breakdown stoppages by implementing appropriate preventive or predictive-based (maintenance) measures, and ensuring that changes needed to be made are done with minimal disruption caused (consider single minute exchange of die, or SMED, within operations) are all opportunities that are available to us to minimise the occurrence of having to slow down, interrupt, or stop – thereby generating a wait (waste) state.

Just as much as clear communication, procedures, training and skill needed to execute a job result in fewer opportunities for waiting to germinate within our activities.  

Whenever activity has to stop for any reason, the resulting inaction leads to additional costs, frustrations and spiralling waste streams. Whilst in ‘wait mode’, no value is being created, whilst possibly other problems (costs) continue to grow – only to make the situation worse, fast!

All forms of waiting disrupt material and information flow. 

Waiting also subsequently generates an opportunity for pile-ups (cars in a traffic jam? WIP down a production line? Queues in a line at the bank’s front office? On-hold customers on a call-centre line?)

We need to ensure that we are providing the right level of capacity (people, tools, bandwidth, etc) to handle the workload at known and anticipated bottlenecks.

Another possible solution to consider is that of simplifying tasks to enable better flow-through, as the process traverses through the constricted avenues.

Reducing every opportunity for waste within your activity helps you operate more effectively, efficiently, consistently and at lower cost and frustration. Adopting lean principles in both your business self as well as your personal self can greatly benefit your quality of life, and of those around you.


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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