balled up paper in the waste basket

Eliminate These 8 Types of Waste From Your Digital Workplace With Lean Management

April 15, 2021 Digital Workplace
cristian salanti
By Cristian Salanti

While the digital workplace has existed for just a few decades, the physical workspace has been in place for thousands of years. For centuries, people have created methods to optimize the physical workspace. I always thought that anyone designing a digital workplace would benefit by translating these successful methods from the traditional workplace to the digital realm.

In early 1930, Toyota devised a new production method called Toyota Production System, later called lean management. A lean company cuts waste, reduces costs, improves quality and increases speed across all its business processes.

A core part of this method is the identification of eight commonly occurring types of waste (Muda) in the workplace that should be reduced to a minimum.

How does lean management qualify an event as waste? Waste is something that does not add value, something that customers (including internal ones) do not want to pay for.

While some waste is obvious and staff can readily deal with them, others aren't as evident and can negatively impact the results of the organization.

Here are the eight types of waste, some related examples and some actions you might consider in your digital workplace.

1. Defects

The first type of waste is also the most obvious. Defects also include results that do not fit the requirements of the (internal) customers.

Examples include:

  • An employee delivering incorrect information to a customer because he could not find the right information or found obsolete information.
  • A software bug that stops an employee from filling a request.
  • Incorrect data entry because the form input was not validated.

Having a solid feedback management tool is essential to directly link each internal customer with the right process owner. It's more than sending an email to the process owner, it also means having a solid, management supported system that collects and manages corrective and preventive measures.

Related Article: The Most Critical Areas to Fix in Digital Employee Experience

2. Overprocessing

Overprocessing refers to any unnecessary component or operation.

Examples include:

  • A human verification step that can be performed automatically.
  • A high-ranking manager approving a small expense request instead of receiving a notification.
  • Disconnected systems that require people to perform the same operation twice.
  • Adding features that will make the application more complex, yet will seldom be used.

Keeping things simple helps a lot, especially as any additional complexity has numerous negative side effects. Yet features that give you a competitive edge can be worth the additional complexity.

3. Overproduction

It means producing more and faster than necessary for your customers or for your colleagues.

Examples include:

  • Countless emails sent to broadcast information to the employees, blindly copying people with little or no interest on a subject. Not using a more effective communication tool for the situation at hand (intranet, Teams or even the phone).
  • Producing too many sales presentations instead of reusing content because existing ones are improperly stored.
  • Sending an email with a file attached, instead of a link, multiplies the number of files circulating and unnecessarily increases your storage needs.

Using the most appropriate tool and the most appropriate method of delivering information is key. Otherwise your recipients (and your storage resources) will quickly become overloaded.

Related Article: Using AI for Metadata Creation

4. Waiting

When work items must wait before work starts on them, it delays the final product or service from being delivered to the customer and creates a sense of overload for the employees.

Examples include:

  • Waiting for unnecessary approvals.
  • Not working on a task because you missed the email notifying you that the task was allocated to you.
  • Waiting for a particular employee to free themselves to work on a task when other available colleagues could do the job just as well.

A few actions to take here may include surfacing tasks and notifications on the homepage, or digitally pooling all the available resources. Also, you can highlight exceptions that exceed SLA thresholds to superiors who can then take specific actions.

Mobile access to digital tools also allows for quicker actions, especially when it comes to simple approvals. 

5. Inventory

Inventory stands for a work-in-progress that has yet to be delivered to customers or to colleagues — it adds a significant cost to the enterprise.

Examples include:

  • A loan request still being processed.
  • Functionalities or projects that are in process of being implemented.
  • A not yet approved day-off request.

The same approaches you use to reduce waiting are helpful in inventory reduction as well. Agile development approaches, where specific effort is dedicated to keeping the work-in-progress within strict limits, can also serve as inspiration here.   

Related Article: Why Business Agility Doesn't Work Like Agile Software Development

6. Transportation

Transportation adds costs and can potentially damage goods with physical factories, making it a clear candidate for reduction. In the digital workplace, transportation is more about the data being transferred between users and/or systems.

Examples include:

  • Documents sent as attachments instead of links that multiply the need for storage and are prone to becoming obsolete.
  • Batch moving large amounts of data between systems instead of building APIs to deliver the required piece of information only.
  • Sites that have suboptimal CSS files that cause additional loads on the webservers, network and the client computer.

While at first glance these examples might not amount to much, ignoring them could end up clogging communication and storage systems.

7. Motion

You may have seen the motion studies of Frank and Lillien Gilbreth. The Gilbreths filmed workers accomplishing tasks to identify where to make improvements and to use for future training purposes. The basic premise is the same in the digital workplace, where the intention is to identify and eliminate any unnecessary movements required to perform tasks online.

Examples include:

  • It taking multiple clicks to find basic information on the intranet.
  • Using regular menus to navigate through a complex intranet instead of having a mega-menu.
  • User working in one app and needing to open another app to do a related action when an interface could allow the operation to be accomplished in the current app.

UX specialists will likely be the most help in such cases. The big challenge here is that while each application might provide a decent user experience, the overall digital workplace might not be optimal.

Related Article: The Myth of the Digital Workplace Hub

8. Non-Utilized Talent

This addition was introduced after the initial seven types of waste of the Toyota Production System, and it is about not using people at their maximal potential.

Examples include:

  • Employee skills, qualifications or previous job experiences go unknown by colleagues or managers due to improperly filled in employee profiles.
  • People sitting idle when others are very busy.
  • Great ideas get lost while following hierarchical chains.

Probably one of the areas where a good digital workplace can help the most is by better connecting people and their knowledge through digital tools.

Can You Find Any of This Waste in Your Digital Workplace?

Knowing these eight types of waste will most likely help you spot improvement opportunities within your digital workplace. Addressing them will most likely require a joint approach from business and technology management.

Author's Note: As I was completing my article, I remembered Gerry McGovern’s ongoing campaign about digital waste. He supplies a complementary, wider perspective of the digital waste within the modern society. I warmly encourage you to read his latest posts on this topic, I find them extremely insightful and engaging.

About the Author

Cristian Salanti is working as a Digital Employee Experience Architect at Zenify.net. He has been developing Intranets for the past 20 years. He is advocating for a more practical, managerial approach to Digital workplace design.

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