Most of What Goes Wrong is Waste

Eliminating Waste in BusienssNearly every corner of most businesses, small and large, harbors pointless waste — wasted money, time, effort, or all three.  
Linda M. Orr, Dave J. Orr — Eliminating Waste in Business


I was talking to a mind-level manager in a Fortune 500 company. You know, the kind of person in the midst of day-to-day “how do we get things done better” activities.

I asked him about the problems, the bottlenecks, he faced. He did not hesitate – he had a ready answer. “Most of what goes wrong is waste.”

Here’s part of the businessdictionary definiton:

(1) Resources consumed by inefficient or non-essential activities.
(2) Unwanted material left over from a production process, or output which has no marketable value.
(3) Process or material that does not (from the viewpoint of the customer) add value to a good or service.
(4) Material discharged to, deposited in, or emitted to an environment in such amount or manner that causes a harmful change.

This manager has worked in other industries before, and he did talk about the waste of resources. And he also offered this interesting story – in one job he had, in which he managed a crew of folks, he first did things “the way he was taught by the person who trained him.” But things did not go all that well. So, he pulled out the operations manual, which he had been shown, but his trainer had not taken all that seriously, so neither had he. He decided: “I’m going to do everything by the book, step-by-step from the manual” and see how that goes. Everything went better — much better! Waste was reduced dramatically, efficiency went up. You know: “if all else fails, follow the directions.”

But here’s what he said that especially grabbed my attention from his current job. “Every conflict, every argument between two or more people, ends up wasting an enormous amount of time. And time is something we really can’t waste.”

I’ve come back to work this week (after a family funeral) asking myself this question: Where is my waste? Where am I inefficient?  Where am I wasting time? Where am I not following my “manual?”

(And, by the way, I don’t have a manual – so, maybe I should create an operations manual for a speaker/trainer/consultant/writer like myself…).

Thinking about this “waste” problem, (kind of from an “independent contractor like myself” perspective – but, I suspect this is widely applicable), here are some obvious thoughts…

• when you learn how to do something, and you don’t “record the how,” and you have to learn the how again, you have wasted time.

• when you can’t find…anything… an e-mail you need, a document you need, a phone number you need, you have failed to set up the right retrieval system. You know, “a place for everything; everything in its place” process. A failed process leads to massive amounts of wasted time.

• when you have to repeat something to another person—something that you have already communicated; or when they have to repeat something that they have already told you, and you failed to capture it in your retrieval “help you remember” process… now you are wasting time with “having to repeat” a communication.

• when two or more people meet with no agenda, and thus are not productive; you waste time

• when two or more people get into unnecessary conflict (yes, I know — some conflict is good, and quite necessary — but, not all!), you waste time

The list can go on and on, can’t it?

So, what about you. Where is the waste in your operation, no matter how large or how small? The waste of resources? The waste of time? The waste caused by unnecessary conflict and argument?

It’s time to reduce, and aim at getting rid of, the waste. Because, I think this manager was correct – “most of what goes wrong is waste.”


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