A Powerful Process for Eliminating Waste

by Tom McBride

Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.

Several methodologies exist to help organizations eliminate waste.  Just-In-Time (JIT) and Lean Manufacturing have been highly successful on the factory floor and have been heavily developed over several decades.  Others, including Total Quality Management (TQM) and Reengineering, have been effective across a broader range of environments.  For offices and other non-manufacturing areas, I prefer a hybrid approach that combines the best tools of several methodologies.  In the factory, this process can be combined with lean manufacturing activities to improve overall results.  This article outlines a process that has been applied successfully in numerous environments. 


The effectiveness of this or any process will depend heavily on the readiness of the organization.  An organization that supports continuous improvement and teamwork, has developed a high level of trust, and is skilled in the use of kaizen events, will be prepared to achieve great success.  (A Kaizen event is a high intensity attack by a team on a significant area of organizational waste and is usually reserved for those few opportunities providing the greatest benefit to the organization.)


The process described below consists of twelve distinct steps that can be grouped into four stages.


The first stage is “DISCOVERY”.


1.      Find the waste – Look for what is consistently causing “pain” or is limiting the organization.  The focus can also be on dollars (sales, profits, margins, inventory, cost of quality), performance (lead times, on-time delivery), processes, or how people spend their time.

2.      Measure the waste – The objective is to accurately define the magnitude of waste that currently exists.  Numerous tools are available to facilitate this step, including fish-bone diagrams, process analysis flow charts, the 5-Why technique, personal work analysis charts, and many others.

3.      Pareto analysis - This charting technique is used to visually apply the “80/20 rule” to identify the larger areas of waste.

4.      Narrow the focus - Select and focus on the “critical few” areas that would provide the greatest benefit to your business.

5.      Dig deeper – Within the “critical few”, dig deeper until the major contributors to waste have been found and quantified.  Continue digging deeper until satisfied that the major root causes have been identified and quantified.  A root cause is something on which you can take action to solve the problem.

6.      Assign root causes – Develop a quantified list of causes requiring solutions.


Upon reaching this point in the process the team will have a valuable understanding of current conditions in the area of focus.  The major sources of waste will have been identified and prioritized, and the team will be ready to apply the second group of steps, referred to as the “CREATIVE” stage.


  1. Visualize the perfect solution – Forget about how it is done now.  What would be the ideal solution; that is, one in which all waste is eliminated?  Visualizing the perfect solution bypasses incremental thinking and produces much more powerful solutions.
  2. Brainstorm – This step helps groups generate ideas that are beyond the obvious.  To be effective the group must get into creative mode as opposed to a practical (get things done) mode.  Sessions should be short and lively, and absolutely no criticism of ideas is allowed.  The objective is to generate and document a huge quantity of ideas.


The third stage is “PLAN AND ACT”, where the work gets planned, executed, and followed up.  Projects run the risk of losing momentum at this point, and getting results demands a solid commitment from organizational leaders.


  1. Select action items – Evaluate each brainstorming idea and select which ones to implement.  It is critical to prioritize your list by weighing the benefit of each against its difficulty of implementation.  Keep the list short and powerful.
  2. Action plan – Do the low cost, high impact items immediately, and develop an urgent but realistic timetable for completing the rest.
  3. Monitor the plan – Stick to the plan and avoid “starts and stops.”  Status reviews keep management involved and help to avoid “scope creep.”


The final phase is “SUSTAIN”.  This phase ensures that the results the team has achieved will be maximized and that gains will not deteriorate over time.


  1. Measure results – Track progress against goals to ensure success.  Frequent posting, review, and promotion of meaningful results are vital to sustaining gains.  Don’t forget to celebrate successes.


This process works well in any type of organization.  When the going gets tough, using this process will get you back on track. 



Ó 2001 Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.