A Return to First Principles (Part 4) What Is Waste?

Let’s recap. My role as trainer is to enable my organization to make money or save money. Every time a resource is used, the organization has incurred a cost, and if I do not recoup that cost plus a margin, my organization will not remain viable. Any time a resource is expended and that cost is not recouped, waste has occurred. My role as trainer is to minimize the occurrences of waste. In that manner, I enable profit and justify my exorbitant salary.*

If I am going to be successful, I need to understand waste, be able to identify it, and align my training strategy (and products) toward the specific removal of the waste (or opportunity to create it).

Persons involved in Continuous Improvement have devised a number of waste models, organized categorization of waste types. I have encountered several of them, all of them very useful. In order to not step on anyone’s copyright, I have created my own model, one I call COMET TAILS. Maybe it needs some work, but at the same time, you can turn your workers loose to identify “comet tails” in your work place and processes.

Each of the letters in COMET TAILS represents a category of waste. These categories are not necessarily listed in order of importance or prominence. But let’s look at the first half–the COMET–here.

C:  Complexity

The more complex a process or operation is, the more prone it is to errors and other waste occurrences. Where complexity can be worked out of a process, it should be. Where a process is intrinsically complex, the trainer needs to manage that complexity. A 40-step process may be broken down into five 8-step operations, for example.

O:  Over-production

In the “good old days,” production units would tend to crank out as many of a part, unit, assembly, etc., as possible. Lots of production meant good productivity calculations. But if there is no customer for the parts, they will only create a space and inventory headache. The material expended to make the parts is no longer available to make something a customer actually wants. Produce only what is actually needed by the customer.**

M:  Material

When the company purchases material, it buys it at some cost. As it is processed, its value increases until its maximum value is achieved in the finished product. Any time material does not make it into the finished product is wasted (regardless of why it did not make it into finished product).

E:  Energy

The application of energy can be of the utility type (electricity, natural gas) or of the human type. Wasted utility energy is an obvious cost, but the waste of human energy has multiple costs. Increased human energy increases injury potential, as well as the chance of mistakes made due to fatigue. Over time, wasted human energy becomes a drag on worker morale, which can lead to increased injury potential as well as turnover.

T:  Time

Time is a non-renewable commodity. All of us are allotted 168 hours in a week. Once used, they can never be regained. Hours cannot be stored for later use. Lost time can impact productivity, can impact schedules and create late work and dissatisfied customers. (Note: worker time is captured in the TAILS portion of the waste model.)

In the next post, we will describe the TAILS wastes.

* To the “training is a necessary evil” crowd, any salary paid a trainer is considered exorbitant.

** A “customer” may not necessarily be the paying type. In terms of a process, any operation, department, etc. that will take your output and do something additional to it is a customer (in this case, an internal customer).

About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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