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Seven Forms of Waste – Lean Six Sigma

4 min read

Understanding the Seven forms of Waste

If you are looking into implementing lean six sigma principles, the first thing you will need to do is to look at the seven forms of waste. Having a good understanding of what each of them are, and how they can be addressed in your facility, will help to ensure you are able to operate more efficiently.

When companies don’t take the time to really understand these seven forms of waste, they will end up losing focus over time. In the end, this can leave a facility in the same state it was in before, or sometimes even worse. With this in mind, take a moment to read about each of the seven forms of waste that are identified in the lean six sigma methodology.

Reviewing the Seven forms of Waste

1. Overproduction

When a facility produces too much of a product, it is a form of waste. Even if the product does eventually sell, it causes certain types of waste. For example, if you have too much of a product, it needs to be stored in a warehouse, which is wasting space. In addition, if the product isn’t selling well, you may have to sell it at a discount, which reduces profits.

2. Excess Motion

Seven Forms of Waste MotionMotion is necessary for the creation of products, but all too often things are moved unnecessarily, which is wasteful. This can happen when machines are not positioned efficiently so an item has to be transported long distances to get where it is gone. Too often, the item then has to come back the other way to finish a process.

Minimizing excess motion is a great way to reduce waste, since it won’t require resources to complete that motion. Another example of this is if someone is taking an inefficient route to where they need to go. Some facilities have even used colored floor marking tape to identify paths based on which product is being moved. The product simply follows the path along through the process so everyone knows the most efficient way to get to the next step.

3. Waiting

Another of the seven forms of waste is waiting. This can happen when work is not properly planned, so people working on one machine have to wait around for work from a previous station. Working with the work schedules of employees, you can often minimize the waiting to eliminate this type of waste.

People standing around doing nothing is just one form of waiting, however. If a machine has to wait for additional parts or resources, that is also wasteful. This is why proper inventory control is an important way to reduce waiting.

4. Unnecessary Processing

Seven Forms of Waste ProcessingMany companies make improvements to products just for the sake of improving them. If customers don’t want or need the improvement, than this is a type of waste. When customers don’t demand a change, they won’t be willing to pay for it.

If you find that a specific feature of a product is not something that your customers want, than it should be eliminated to avoid unnecessary processing.

5. Transportation

When items are moved around unnecessarily, it is wasteful. For example, some facilities will store a product in a warehouse for some time. If it sits for too long, they may move it to another warehouse or another location within the warehouse. This transportation does not provide any value, and actually wastes the resources of the people and machines that have to move it.

In addition, whenever there is transportation occurring, there is a risk of damaging the products. If an item is dropped, it will have to be fixed or even remade. This is, of course, a significant waste.

6. Excess Inventory

Seven Forms of Waste InventoryHaving excess inventory is one of the more common types of waste. This doesn’t just mean too many finished products, however, if you are storing a large amount of parts that are used for the creation of a product, that is also wasteful.

Ordering only what is needed for a specific order will help to ensure none of them go to waste. Having a system in place that will order more of each item when it is needed, and in a way that will ensure it shows up as close to the point where it is required as possible, will help to reduce inventory.

7. Defects

Whenever a product has a problem, it is very wasteful. Defective parts or products need to go back through to either be repaired or disposed of. Finding defects as soon as possible and identifying root causes of the problem so that it doesn’t happen again is essential to a lean workplace.

Even if it takes some time and resources to identify the causes of defects, it will be well worth the effort in the end. Over time, as the facility sees fewer and fewer defects it will be clear just how important eliminating this type of waste really is.

Always Review for Waste

Understanding the seven forms of waste in a lean facility is really just the beginning of an ongoing process. You need to make sure you are always on the lookout for any of these types of waste in the facility, and then put in the effort to have them eliminated.

At first, most facilities are able to find a lot of different wasteful things and make fast improvements. Over time, however, they can become more difficult to identify and smaller in nature. This is a good sign that the facility is beginning to operate more efficiently with less and less waste.

Why Six Sigma Root Cause Analysis is a Great Tool

4 min read

Six Sigma Root Cause AnalysisMaking Improvements with Six Sigma Root Cause Analysis

When things aren’t going the way they should, it can often be quite difficult to identify what is actually causing the problem. Despite the fact that it can take a lot of work, root cause analysis is extremely important because of the fact that it will allow you to not just cover up issues, but actually address them directly.

In many cases, this will allow you to make significant long term improvements to your facility. With that in mind, all facilities should have a method of digging into problems to discover the root cause. For a growing number of facilities, this methodology comes right from their existing Six Sigma strategies.

What is the Six Sigma Root Cause Analysis Strategy?

Six Sigma Root Cause AnalysisThe Six Sigma root cause analysis strategy is often known simply as the “Five Whys.”  As you might expect, it gets this name because of the fact that it encourages those working on problems to ask “why?” until they get to the root cause of the problem.

In reality, you may have to ask yourself (or your team) why only once or twice or far more than five times. The important thing is to make sure you are asking the right questions and that you don’t stop until you get to the actual root cause of the problem.

Before you ask yourself ‘why’ at all, however, you need to clearly define the problem. The Six Sigma standard suggests that you write it out so that you and the entire team have a single point of focus when working on the issues. This will help you to avoid getting distracted when performing this root cause analysis.

To get a concrete idea of how this could work in a normal, everyday situation, follow this simple example. If you are driving home and your check engine light came on, you might run through a Six Sigma root cause analysis to figure it out. First, you define the problem statement, which might be, “Your vehicle is operating, but the check engine light has come on.” You would then begin asking why?  For example:

  • Q) Why did the check engine light come on?

o   A) Because the serpentine belt came off. *You can confirm this by looking under the hood or seeing if other systems that rely on this belt are impacted.

If you determine that this is not the root cause of your problem, you will move on to the next why:

  • Q)What is another reason why the check engine light came on?

o   Because I have not changed the oil in eight months. *Again, confirm this by checking the oil levels or taking it to a mechanic.

If you find that this is the cause, you will still need to continue asking why, since the oil not being changed is not the root cause:

  • Q) Why wasn’t the oil changed on time?

o   Because I forgot to schedule the oil change.

  • Why did I forget to schedule the oil change?

o   Because I stopped using my calendar app on my phone

You now know that the root cause to your engine light is actually the poor organizational skills and a failure to use the proper tools to help prevent these types of things. As you can see, by getting to the root cause of this issue, you actually likely avoided a variety of other problems in the future (related to the root cause of poor scheduling and organization).

Of course, you will have to take steps to fix the problem, but once you have identified the root cause, that won’t be difficult at all.

Keeps the Focus

One of the biggest benefits of the Six Sigma root cause analysis system is that it helps to ensure that everyone working on a problem stays very focused. It can be tempting for many people to get off topic and start looking into potential issues that aren’t related to the actual problem at hand.

While this can be beneficial for discovering other issues, a root cause analysis session is not the right time for it. By continuing to ask ‘why’ based questions, it allows you to keep moving forward in the investigation.

Easier to Identify the Actual Root Cause

Another major advantage to this system is that it is much easier to know when you have reached the actual root cause. When you can’t think of any more ‘why’ questions that make sense to ask, that almost certainly means that you’ve reached the root cause.

Some people may be tempted to keep finding and asking these questions (as you can always ask why) but when it is clear that all the questions being asked aren’t actually helping to drive toward a root cause, the process is over. You can then find where the questions ended, and that is the root cause.

Finding the Solution

Floor Marking ShapesWith the Six Sigma root cause analysis strategy you are not only able to find the actual root cause much more effectively, but the solution to the problem is often built right in. Once you see where the root cause is, you can often go back and look at the answers to the previous questions to come up with ideas on how to address that root cause.

In a way, the whole process of finding the actual cause of issues is actually going to be preparing you for the problem resolution as well. This will allow the problem analysis and investigation to go much more quickly, while also being more effective.

For example, if there is a safety issue where there are frequently accidents or near misses in an area where there are frequently people walking as well as high-low’s driving, you can use this method to ask several why questions, to which the answer may lead to the fact that there is no easily identifiable difference between where people should be walking and where vehicles should be driving.

Once you get to this conclusion, you can quickly realize that adding floor marking tape that clearly distinguishes where vehicles need to drive will solve the problem. You can also determine whether or not it is necessary to use color coding for this, or even using floor marking shapes for further benefits.

The bottom line with the Six Sigma root cause analysis strategy is that it will help you to more quickly determine what exactly is causing the problem, while at the same time coming up with a solution. It is well structured and can be effective for nearly any type of problem imaginable.

Causation vs. Correlation in the Lean Business World

4 min read

Causation vs. Correlation in the Lean Business World

For anyone who’s had to sit through a year of high school statistics, and even for many of those who haven’t, you’re familiar with the phrase “correlation does not equal causation.” While many of us nodded our heads in agreement after some simple illustration, the impact of not intimately understanding this concept in the business world can be catastrophic.

I bring this up now because the topic recently arose on a favorite LinkedIn group. Several commenters offered up some examples and/or simply voiced their agreement, and I found this troubling. Troubling not because it was incorrect, but because you can see misunderstanding of the concept clearly negatively influencing businesses on a daily basis, despite the fact that everyone already apparently ‘knows it’ and agrees with it.

Before we get further into it, we should do a quick refresher of what the words and phrase mean. I went into this article with the assumption that everyone’s likely familiar with the concept already, but you know what they say happens when you assume…

Causation Does Not Equal Correlation

Let’s do a quick breakdown:

Causation:  One factor or event leading to another; this could illustrate dependence – as in factor A is necessary for factor B to happen – or simply be one of the ways in which something happen (even without factor A, factors C, D, E, or F could all lead to factor B independently). The main takeaway is that one thing is happening because of another.

Correlation:  Correlation is a simpler concept, and can be summed up as “a pattern between” two things. If two things are correlated, there are trends within each happening at the same time. Correlation can be positive (two things increasing or decreasing at the same time) or it can be negative, also called inverse (in which one item increases while the other decreases, and vice versa).

The meaning of the main phrase in question today is simply that while things might be correlated, or appear to move in similar or inverse ways with relation to one another, this does not mean a change in either is responsible for or a result of changes in the other.

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It’s quite easy to illustrate this, and a few great examples are shown in the article linked in the original LinkedIn post. One, which graphs the US murder rate over the past few years vs. the market share of Internet Explorer as an internet browser, makes a particularly good case for a correlation between two things doesn’t necessarily point to a causal relationship.

Indeed, the chart shows clearly that murder rates have gone down while Internet Explorer usage has as well. Obviously, IE probably isn’t making people so upset as to drive them to murder (it’s not that bad), but the correlation exists nonetheless. Other funny examples in the article include number of pirates vs. global temperature and sheet entanglement deaths per year vs. cheese consumption (both of which show positive correlation).

The implications of this become more sinister when correlations that aren’t so obviously ridiculous are shown side by side. News stations, bias reports, and more could – and do – easily make it appear that one thing is causing another, even when that hasn’t been proven to be the case.

In The Workplace

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“That’s all well and good,” you’re thinking, “but what the heck does it have to do with ME?!”  Well, the simple fact is that Lean/Six Sigma thinking focuses on improvement, and one of the only ways we can improve a situation is by knowing what’s causing it in the first place. While working to identify root causes, it’s easy to ‘bridge’ gaps in our evidence with assumptions, and this is where we can run into trouble; after all, addressing one issue won’t help unless it really is (one of) the ones affecting the other.

Let’s say you’ve mapped out operations and notice a particularly slow station. After some investigation, you see that it turns out that all of the days with the biggest delays are when an employee named John is working. Sure enough, every day John is on that station, productivity slumps.

In response, you don’t tell John what’s going on but do enroll him in some extra training on his work. A couple weeks later, nothing’s improved. Now you bring John into your office to have a talk. As you’re about to get to an ultimatum, John speaks up and offers what is probably the real cause of your troubles:  A supervisor on the floor shares a hobby with John, they both enjoy boating, and every time John’s on the workfloor the floor manager comes over and has a chat with him about boating, asking questions about building his new boat, etc. Inevitably, productivity slumps as John has a period where he can’t focus on his work.

Whether John was just a lazy worker or he had a distracting supervisor slowing him down, your original data would have shown up the same. In the end, however, it becomes apparent that despite the correlation, John is not actually the cause of slowdowns on the days he works, and your correctional efforts need to be focused elsewhere (on that chatty floor manager, to be precise!).

This is just one very specific and clear-cut example of how this concept can lead to problems in workplace ‘improvement’. In real life scenarios, the relationships can be much more complex, and getting to the bottom of the “root cause” of a problem, a common strategy in Lean, can be more difficult that in this example.

Don’t Mistake Correlation for Causation

That said, there are a few important things you can do to help reduce false positives and ensure that you don’t mistake correlation for causation.

Don’t Assume:  When it comes to digging down and figuring out how to improve your business, preconceived notions kill progress. Remain open and try not to weigh in or even think about solutions until you have your data. 

Be Critical:  Even once the findings are in, ask yourself what more you can do; are there other areas to investigate?  Are you sure you’ve identified the right cause?  Is there actually more than one?

Talk To People:  From afar, it can be hard to move from an overall view to a specific, insightful one. Always work with your employees to get the information you need. Remember, a simple conversation with John would have set our imaginary business owner on the right path sooner. In the end, it’s all about saving you time and money, so use the tools available to you to track down the right leads as early as possible.

JIT – Just In Time Manufacturing Explained

2 min read

Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing describes the process whereby companies only acquire and produce items on an as needed basis. This process in contradictory to conventional thought that focuses on carrying large amounts of product inventory and merchandise on hand to create products and fulfill orders. While the conventional approach of amassing a large inventory and keeping the parts or stock items on hand to fill orders sounds practical, the reality is the process of holding significant inventories in house consumes large amounts of valuable resources that could be leveraged elsewhere within the organization.


JIT manufacturing is not a new concept. The JIT principle has actually been around for more than one-hundred years. The concept focuses on the production or acquisition of just enough units to meet current demands. The process was first modeled by Henry Ford around 1923. Mr. Ford recognized the huge inefficiencies present when rail cars full of materials or components were sitting idle. He understood those assets at rest represented lost revenue. JIT, as a process, did not really come into sharp focus until its adoption by the Toyota Motor Company. The Toyota company has thrived with the implementation of this process to guide its product development and manufacturing.

Impact to Business

The JIT process significantly impacts businesses in a couple of significant ways. First, it allows the business to decrease the inventory they carry on hand. This measure provides the company with a greater amount of operating capital on hand to reinvest in new products or to shore up balance sheets. Second, it forces the companies that use this methodology to implement streamlined processes. When a company is using JIT, they do not have a significant amount of parts in stock for production. This forces them to ensure they have stable, well-defined supply chain management systems. Third, it encourages the businesses using JIT to partner with other firms that understand the JIT process model and that can accommodate the on-demand nature of a JIT supply chain scenario.

Process Improvement

Free Kaizen GuideThe implementation of a JIT based manufacturing system forces companies to evaluate how they do business. Broken processes can easily hide in systems that are over-laden with surplus inventory. However, as companies begin to lean their process flow and diagram and understand their organization’s business processes these broken areas come quickly to light. Process improvement programs such as JIT and Lean Six Sigma will expose and help to correct broken, antiquated processes that are still being used from an era when excess and inefficiency was tolerated. Through the effective implementation of JIT manufacturing processes, when accompanied by effective supply chain management using available technology, it is possible for businesses to not only increase the efficiency with which they produce product, but also increase the money saved within a company while doing so. JIT processes are not a silver bullet to solve all of a company’s problems, but they provide a solid foundation upon which to begin implementing continuous process improvement within an organization.

Gemba Academy Training Review

4 min read

Gemba Academy Review

How do you really know which online training course is best for you and your organization? There is an abundant amount of literature, DVDs and websites out there that claim to be the “best” way to introduce or keep you on the path to continuous improvement, but how to you really know which one is best for you? I have recently heard a lot of good things about Gemba Academy and their online training program for Lean and Six Sigma. Gemba Academy offers a free three day trial period into their school, so I decided to see for myself what they were all about.

Designed With Lean In Mind

My first impression of Gemba Academy after opening up their homepage was how clean and professional it looked compared to other sites I had been on. It’s hard for me to take a training site serious, especially one that promotes Lean and Six Sigma, that are cluttered and hard to navigate. Right away, I got the feeling this site was going to be a breeze to navigate through and find what I needed efficiently. First impression–very impressed!

Gemba Academy Screen ShotAfter taking a quick tour through the site, I was able to easily navigate back to the home page and sign up for a free preview account. It was one of the easiest “free trials,” I’ve ever signed up for. They required minimal information, there was no having to remind myself later to cancel and best of all, no credit card number was required. I immediately jumped into the training videos and was surprised at the amount of content I had access to under the free preview.

The content drew me in right away. After scrolling through the list of videos, I was pleasantly surprised with the length of each video. The majority of the videos are less than ten minutes, allowing you to soak in more content in less time–efficient if you ask me! There’s not a lot of flare and overwhelming graphics, just good information in a nice tight package. Did I mention they’re all in high definition?

Short Videos=Less Waste

Gemba Academy is broken into two sections depending on your focus (or you can do both), School of Lean and School of Six Sigma. Each one is broken into categories that are then broken down into specific categories. I liked the fact that each category begins with an overview video to introduce the subject matter. This allows you to get your feet wet before diving into the specifics, which again let me point out are short, efficient and to the point!

I really can’t stress enough how important that is. Long lectures and drawn out how-to videos have been proven time and time again to be ineffective learning tools. Short, to the point visual learning tools are much more effective for individuals attempting to learn a new subject, all the way up to the expert who wants to continue with their education.

More Than Just Training Videos

Gemba Academy Screen Shot of QuizWithin each school’s sites are access to plenty of other videos from established experts in their respected fields of Lean and Six Sigma. The ability to have expert opinions like the original Lean Guru himself, Mr. Masaaki Imai, Mark Graban, Mike Wroblewski and Mark Hamel to name a few, is a big bonus and a nice break from the training modules. In the School of Lean there’s even some older footage they received from the Kaizen Institute (also a partner of Gemba Academy) that might seem a little dated at first, but really adds some nice timeless content to their library. There is also a nice mix of interviews in the content with experts from various companies, including the originator, Toyota.

There’s even a good assortment of quizzes attached to specific topics that allow you to go back and gauge what you’ve learned along the way. The quizzes are short, but in depth enough to keep you focused and inline with the main points the video(s) were trying to make. Online quizzes can be sometimes difficult to navigate and get through. I did not find this to be the case with the Gemba Academy quiz format. They were nicely laid out and even provided be with a score at the end to see how well I did.

Bang For Your Buck

Gemba Academy has a few different packages to choose from. They have specific rates for individuals and another rate for organizations. A big benefit to the organization package is that it’s site based. Meaning, when an organization purchases a package the entire organization has full access to their subscription from anywhere, to anyone within your sites location, at any time. If you are a multi-site location they do offer discounted package rates that would give you the same access across your entire enterprise.

Each membership offers you full access to the Gemba Academy library in your package on any computer, tablet and smartphone with Internet access. However, if you prefer DVDs, they have discounted rates for those as well.

All Products Include:

  • Purchase additional current and future DVDs at discounted pricing
  • Quizzes and support files
  • HD quality (1080p) videos
  • Subtitles in multiple languages
  • Mobile device access -iOs4+, Android
  • Reliable access via worldwide server network
  • Virtual support and coaching (email/phone)
  • Learning pathway plans

From the ground up, Gemba Academy is out to build and improve on a better Lean and Six Sigma world. There is not a lot of frills and extras that slow the learning process down, just good content built with the same concepts they preach. In fact, the entire process is designed with Lean in mind, from how they’ve built their site, how they approach the training modules, down to the actual production of the videos.

There is no limitation to the content, from beginners to experts, there is something to help you in the continuous improvement process and it’s not all about the manufacturing industry either. Many of their clients come from a variety of fields and are seeing major benefits, as seen on their testimonials page.

Don’t just take my word for it, the free trial is good for three days. Which is plenty of time to get you through the site and decide for yourself if it’s something that can benefit you or your organization.

The mission of Gemba Academy LLC is to provide high quality online video training for individuals and groups. By leveraging leading edge technologies such as high definition (HD) video delivered via a global network of servers on high bandwidth connections, we can deliver high quality training, on demand, anywhere in the world.

-Gemba Academy