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No Such Thing as the 8th Waste

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Lean practitioners can be dogmatic in their approach. This can create antibodies to Lean practice in an organization and limit a practitioner’s creativity in the problem-solving process. It’s been a point of pride in my practice to keep an open mind and to make it more about the problem to solve and the practice of Lean thinking than about any particular Lean tools, techniques, or views commonly expressed in the community of practice.

That said, I have a beef with the 8th waste – often described as “unused human potential” – that I see added to the OG 7 wastes we’ve learned from TPS (the Toyota Production System) – and here’s my argument.

Waste is not cost. Outside of our Lean practice, we use the word “waste” casually.

We often complain about wasting things like time, money, and space. These are NOT process wastes (as the 7 wastes are); they are costs. The proof is evident in that removing time, money, and space will not create value – quite the opposite – whereas removing any of the 7 wastes will, and this will drive costs like time, money, and space from the operation. Unused human potential is an opportunity cost. If people weren’t busy engaging in waste, their potential could be leveraged for real transformation.

I understand the appeal of the 8th waste. The reapplication of humanity from waste to creating real value in the world is the #1 reason I’ve chosen this practice as my life’s work. My issue is that people looking at unused human potential, or any other cost, as something to rid the business of is harmful and will erode value.

In all my years of practice across production, product, service, task, and knowledge work, I’ve found no evidence that there are any more or less than 7 wastes. If you don’t agree, @ me!

Steve Crowley

Service Physics

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