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The Seven Wastes: A Core Concept of LEAN

The Seven Wastes: A Core Concept of LEAN

You have probably heard about and may be familiar with “LEAN” practices implemented by public and private organizations.  Beginning in the manufacturing industry, LEAN practices have spread to banking, health care, law, environmental management, and many other occupations whose practices affect our daily lives.  It’s expected that an increased number of Hoteliers will soon be implementing LEAN practices at their properties’ in the near future.

Though LEAN may be a familiar term, an understanding of the essential elements of LEAN varies from one person to the next.  Therefore the intention of this article is to introduce its core elements to the hospitality community and discuss the LEAN practice associated with recognizing and eliminating waste that can occur in any process.

A Brief History of LEAN

While the evolution of LEAN may be traced to many individuals (e.g. Frederick Taylor, Frank Gilbreth) going back more than a century, Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda (Founder of Toyota) are among the most prominent individuals credited for its evolution.  Henry Ford is notably prominent due to his focus on the importance of a flowing assembly line process of production.  Kiichiro Toyoda is notably prominent in that he expanded on various aspects of the flow production process including the elimination of waste.

The Core Idea of LEAN

Over time LEAN practitioners have extended its application from processes that provide products to processes that provide services.  The term “process” may be broadly defined as a series of linked tasks or activities having the purpose of creating and delivering a product or service.  While the many facets of LEAN have evolved, according to the LEAN Enterprise Institute the core idea of LEAN is to “maximize customer value while minimizing waste.”  Although this core idea may vary somewhat depending on the LEAN book or article you read, or what website you review, the essential idea is providing value to the customer while keeping waste to a minimum.

The key to providing value to the customer and minimizing waste is not simply being “satisfied” that you have a process delivering a service or product to your customer.  The key to LEAN’s success is achieved by implementing continuous process improvements that sustain customer value while minimizing waste.  Thus the fundamental perspective of LEAN is its “persistent” focus on continuous process improvement.

Essential Elements of LEAN

The essential elements of LEAN are comprised of principles, systems, techniques, practices and culture.  LEAN principles provide the discipline to focus on continuous process improvement.  LEAN systems facilitate processes (e.g. business process) that deliver an organization’s services or products.  An important characteristic of these systems is that the systems support continuous process improvement.

LEAN techniques are methods used to evaluate processes to make sure they are “always” functioning at their optimum.  These evaluative techniques are implemented for the purpose of supporting continuous process improvements.  LEAN practices provide a framework for processes to consistently provide value to customers while supporting continuous process improvement.  Finally, LEAN culture refers to an organization wide culture that embraces and supports maximizing value to the customer while minimizing wastes.

The Seven Wastes

Because a brief newsletter article cannot do justice in covering the many essential LEAN elements, and after this cursory introduction to LEAN, this article focuses on one of the LEAN principles which is recognizing and eliminating the seven (7) wastes.  Considering the core idea of LEAN is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste, recognizing and eliminating these wastes enhances the service processes we perform every day.

The seven wastes recognized by LEAN are associated with Waiting Time, Over-production, Over-processing, Defects, Movement, Inventory and Transportation.  Each of these wastes are relevant to some aspect of a service process.  Some of these wastes are more applicable and apparent at the level of individual activities, while others are more applicable at the level of the organization.  None-the-less the seven wastes are defined as follows.

1. Waiting time refers to the time spent waiting on others or on equipment in order for a process activity to be completed.  Waiting time contributes to delays and increases time required to complete a process.  All of us have experienced waiting time at work and in our daily lives.

2. Over-production refers to producing more than what is needed.  Performing a service that is not needed is certainly inefficient and may contribute to waiting time.  Producing a product in excess of what is needed creates unnecessary inventory.

3. Over-processing occurs when more work is expended to perform a process activity then what is actually necessary to satisfy customer demand or requirements.  Exceeding customer demand and/or requirements consumes additional process time and budget.

4. Defects are perhaps the most obvious of all the seven wastes.  Defects apply to any aspect of a service that does not conform to customer requirements.  Factors that contribute to defects include but are not limited to lack of a standard, unclear work instructions, inefficient process, flawed materials, and malfunctioning equipment.

5. Movement is recognized as a waste in the context of physical actions that are inefficient in the execution of a process activity.  We can all recognize many examples of motion waste that may include having to leave our work station to retrieve documents necessary to accomplish an activity, or having to shift between different computer applications to accomplish an activity.

6. Inventory waste refers to storing unnecessary materials that are either not used or in excess of what is needed to perform a process.  While inventory may be more applicable at the organizational level, you can see that inventory consumes budget.

7. Transportation waste is associated with the inefficient transport of people, materials or equipment from one location to another.  While this waste may not be as applicable at the individual level, if you consider all the transportation activities performed by an organization then it certainly represents a potential waste to an organization.

In Summary

An important LEAN principle requires being aware of the seven wastes.  Recognizing which of the seven wastes are occurring and the degree they are occurring in a process represents the initial step in eliminating the waste.  As eluded to in a previous paragraph, other LEAN elements (systems, techniques, and practices) can be applied not only to eliminate the waste from a process, but also to ensure it does not creep back into a process through the practice of continuous process improvements.







Curtis Watkins, Secretary-Treasurer

American Green Lodging and Hospitality Association


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