Time is the Common Denominator of all Wastes

When it comes to improving operations, how many wastes are there really?

I recently read an article that asked the question: How many types of waste are there really? This was in reference to Lean and the original seven wastes in Taiichi Ohno’s iconic Waste Wheel, shown here.

Ohno Lean Waste Wheel

The comments were interesting. Apparently there are tightly-held beliefs on this topic. Let’s try not to over complicate something that Ohno intended to be quite simple, but because waste is the red thread of all Lean, it’s worth consideration.

Purists believe that there are 7 wastes as described by the sensei and there shall be only 7 wastes. Period. Another faction makes the argument for adding the “waste of people’s intellect” or something similar. This notion has become increasingly popular over the years. Kaufman Global added it long ago, but I’ve always found the classification a bit difficult. Is it intellect, human potential, creativity, insight, involvement, et cetera? Unlike Ohno’s originals, these descriptors seem abstract and difficult to attach to an action.

The case for waste of intellect arose from the observation that bosses and managers tend to treat people like cogs instead of active participants in value creation. Ohno’s writings illustrate his struggles to help people understand. Who knows why he didn’t include it in his original work? Maybe he considered himself an “under-cover” social engineer and felt that sticking to hard assets was more pragmatic. Or maybe he didn’t want to too openly point out that management was missing the point? The gap shows no sign of closing soon.

If you want to get really basic, there is only one true waste: TIME. With Lean, time is incorporated in many ways: cycle time, value added time, non-value added time, downtime, uptime, etc. Ohno simply broke it down in a way that made it easy to identify obvious targets to be addressed with appropriate techniques.

wasting time

My take: It doesn’t really matter. Waste can be subdivided many ways. If you think there are 20 different types of waste and this helps attack any one of them better; go for it. In the name of continuous improvement we must be willing to add or subtract in order to improve the system. Right? Yes. Be careful though: More choices seems somehow less Lean, doesn’t it?

People Energy, Alignment and Engagement

Which brings us back to the concept of the waste of people’s intellect. When it comes to achieving operational excellence, a tremendous amount of time is lost by failing to engage people doing their daily work. Non-inclusion results in false starts, half measures, low sustainment and do-overs. Workshops and Kaizen Events may be common, but sustainable results are only achieved when people are tangibly connected to everyday improvement.

Kaufman Global Lean Waste WheelAlignment

Any attempt to be operationally excellent means real and sometimes uncomfortable change; which always meets resistance in some form. Alignment is about getting everyone to support new ways of work. This is a cascading process where actions are different depending on ones place in the organization. If there was only one choice about what to align on however, it would be the need to engage everyone.


Engagement means giving people a voice in the work they do and holding them accountable for continuous improvement. Achieving broad engagement up and down the organization is tough for many. Kaufman Global uses structures like the Executive Steering Team, the Lean Daily Management System ® (LDMS ®), and Procedural Action Teams to force engagement. They’re simple enough to understand and do too. If methods are overly complicated, they are easier avoid.

When it comes to waste, everything revolves around time but it’s okay to define as many subdivisions as you like. If you had two to choose, I’d recommend alignment and engagement. When you get these right, smart people working together toward a common goal always solve the other problems.



  • Muda is the Japanese term for waste. This is the word Taiichi Ohno would have used.
  • A simple definition of waste is: Anything an all knowing, all seeing customer would not be willing to support (pay for).

If you want to learn more about Kaufman Global’s approach to engagement and alignment, check out SLIM-IT, Procedural Adherence and Lean Daily Management System. For a deep dive into the waste wheel and how it applies to Lean, check out our White Paper: Implementing Lean Manufacturing.