Lean and the eighth waste

Recently at King County there has been buzz about an article by Larisa Benson titled Reclaiming the People Side of Lean (Or How We Lost Respect)   In it, Benson argues that the fundamental principle of lean – respect for people – has been lost in translation.

As lean spreads from manufacturing to other industries, more and more organizations are recognizing what is known as the “eighth waste”: underutilized skills, knowledge and talent of people.  The first seven wastes are wastes in processes themselves. There are tools and methodologies such as Kaizen, Six Sigma, 5S, cellular manufacturing, and more, which help eliminate or reduce such wastes.

That leaves the eighth Waste, which deals directly with the people involved in the process – the non-utilized talent when employees that are not effectively engaged.  This not only has the opportunity cost that directly affects the bottom line but, more importantly, it creates the cultural milieu for well-being, trust and loyalty of employees.

While the eighth waste is implied in the other seven wastes, by choosing to call it out organizations communicate their acknowledgement of the fundamental principle of Lean – respect for people.  While some people argue that the eighth waste cannot be observed, measured, or eliminated in the same way as the other seven, others find it useful as a reminder to observe not just what is happening, but who is doing the tasks.

Awareness of the eighth waste reminds us to ask if people are working at their highest skill sets, if they are engaged and understand why they are doing the task. We become curious about evidence of teamwork, whether a person is in the appropriate job or if more training required, what is equitable, and so on.

In Lean there is the mantra: “If it’s dumb, dirty or dangerous, it should not be human work.”  I wonder sometimes if managers know the latent potential of their staff and if they are patient enough to discover and nurture it.

What are you experiencing?


One thought on “Lean and the eighth waste

  1. This is an important article that directly speaks to our efforts to become the Best Run Government. No real improvement/reform can happen without authentic and unflagging respect for ALL members of our workplace community.

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