Norm Bodek on Waste


Society of Manufacturing Engineers:

The link above is a new column written by our friend Norman Bodek (the guest for our first podcast) about the different types of waste, as view from a Toyota Production System perspective.

“Waiting time is waste. I have visited more than 250 manufacturing plants in Japan, and I don't remember seeing a person standing, watching a machine and waiting for the process to end, in any of them. I have been to numerous plants in America, and I always see people waiting and watching machines. Just last year I visited a plant in the South and saw many workers standing and waiting, and saw one worker just sitting, for he didn't know what else to do. Managers would walk by as if the worker didn't really exist. I like Toyota's idea of making sure that people are always moving, and that it may be alright for machines to wait. With JIT, we want to produce only what our customers have ordered, and it doesn't matter that much if machines sit and wait.”

This isn't just a manufacturing problem. I think some of this behavior must be human nature almost. In medical labs, the med techs are often standing and watching the equipment. It is waste in healthcare, just as it is waste in manufacturing.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I’ve always considered Waiting to be more relevant to the product rather than the person, otherwise I’ve found the message tends to get confused. By sticking with the product as waiting you concentrate on the flow, by attaching it to the person you focus on the person rather than the process, not good at all and the obvious inital reaction is to keep them busy and hence over produce.

    Now with the technical bit out of the way, this extract really bugs me. If I don’t keep the machines producing how in the hell do I make the money to pay for everything.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t mean overproduce, I mean I must still produce 30,000 odd units to start to cover costs so the focus is on commercial to sell my capacity.

    The simple statment that machines can wait is just nonsense, the equipment and people need to produce and they obviously need to produce the right thing. Reducing this to a statement on eliminating waiting is a joke

    As regards keeping people moving, well they can certainly look busy, but how much waste is involved in all that movement. I’ll bet that the culture in these Japanese companies ensures that everyone is “kept busy moving” lest the eye of managemnt fall upon you.

    This is such a difficult issue to resovle and how long does it take to create and how much does it cost to have the flexbile equipment with all the mistake proofing and automatic elements required, to keep machines producing and people busy value adding.

    It is so frustrating when we know what to do to be re-told by “gurus” what it is we need to do. Tell me how to do it, how to pay for it, how to get my operators understanding and motivated, and how to free their time to go on Kaizen to reduce waste.

  2. You raise a lot of interesting issues Kevin. Of course you have to worry about selling enough so that you don’t have waiting time. I think maybe, in the short-term, yes, keep the machine and person idle to avoid overproduction, but in the long-term, you have to go sell more. You have to balance your capacity with demand.

    On people waiting… let’s say you have a cell… there is a choice between having a machine wait for a person to unload it versus having a person wait. In the TPS approach, they choose to have the machine wait, partly because they view the machine as an asset that depreciates and eventually has zero value, but the person grows in value. So, the machine becomes the cheaper resource to be underutilized. Of course, if your cell is perfectly balanced, there’s no waiting, but that’s tough to pull off.

    As for gurus, you’re right, why should they give you all of the answers? I don’t think the gurus are “telling you” what to do, think of then as being thought starters who challenge you or inspire you to figure it out for yourself. Figuring it out for yourself is where the best solutions come from, ultimately.

  3. Mark, your last paragraph in your comment comes off like a cop out. Kevin deserved a better response than that. Figure it out for yourself? I think you can do better than that!

  4. Mark, certeinly am figuring it out for myself.

    It is a constant battle to get and keep good people that this statement is nonsense, I want them to be safe and enjoy work be well paid and earn a good bonus. Value’ing people is a given, their is no tradeoff! All their is is real productivity out of any operational group.

    Maybe I’m being too harsh on the advice often given about Lean but I often find it way to simplistic to be any use to me and very repetetive. I feel that if the advice doesn’t solve any real problems for me then that advice is irrelevant, providing no real value to me as a “customer”.

    I really, really don’t need to hear more about any of the 7 wastes, cells, flow, (well maybe more on Jidoka) as understanding these aren’t the real problems to me or colleagues and I don’t think this is why Lean fails in most circumstances. Going back to my original post how do I free resource etc etc.

    What is Bill saying about the vocal one and the 10 silent ones?

  5. Mike — Why not “figure it out yourself?” I don’t think that’s a cop out, I think that’s good advice. Learn from others and maybe even model yourself after others, but if you don’t take what you learn from books, journals, case studies, and consultants/gurus and internalize it, then you won’t really get all of the benefits of lean.

  6. In response to Kevin’s comment on this stuff about waste being too basic…. you know what, to some extent, I agree. Did I hang on each and every word that Norman wrote there? No. But, I know there are many blog readers here who are brand new to lean. One thing that’s tough about doing this blog is that I can’t generalize about my readers… sometimes I write things targeted toward those who are experienced with lean and then I take shortcuts in explaining things assuming certain lean knowledge, then I get people who say “you need to explain that better for those who are new to lean.”

    So, I’ll continue to write some things for the “beginners” and some for the experienced lean hands.

    Either way, I hope you’ll keep reading and adding comments.

  7. There are plenty of people that need to be learn or be reminded about the simple ideas. It is true that many articles are aimed at those without a great deal of knowledge.

    I don’t look at it as the gurus telling people to do what those people already know. I think it is just something aimed at someone else, that you can skip. And, even for many people that understand these ideas and practice them fairly well, short articles that are pretty basic can serve as decent reminders (but if that doesn’t work for you I think just viewing them as aimed at someone else is the best approach).

  8. “I must still produce 30,000 odd units to start to cover costs so the focus is on commercial to sell my capacity.” I think what is important here is the idea that cost is fixed and earned hours need to be generated to cover the cost. That only makes the accountants happy. Is the 30,000 the customer requirement.

  9. This is a great debate that does not occour enough in companies that start down a lean path. One of the first questions for my company was “We will reduce wasted time of people and machine and still be able to make xx,xxx parts for customers when they want it. What do we then do with the machines and people when that time is free?” The answer was to expand product lines that will capture more of our customers demand. We are able to begin R&D on new products without the constraint of factory space and machine time. We have added “a new factory” within our current factories based on eliminating warehouses and gaining several hours a day on each machine. There is a commitment to expand our business, not just cut costs and time. That decision has made a huge difference.


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