Recognise the 8 signals of waste through the lean spectacles


The waste-watching spectacles from House of Performance will give you a fresh view of everyday things. For example, there are the Lean spectacles, which enable you to spot waste. And that’s just the start of the process of continuous improvement. For Lean devotees, waste is a familiar concept. In order to continuously improve, you need to search out examples of waste, track them down and recogise them. But that’s easier said than done. Especially for employees who’ve been occupying a particular position for a long time. You just get so used to things going in a certain way that you no longer see what’s in front of your eyes. It’s for a very good reason that the classic publication on the Lean bookshelves bears the title Learning to See. Lean spectacles are a method for learning to see. They help you and your team to look at the right things, and to understand what you see.


There are 8 kinds of waste. In order to track them down, you must be able to see and recognise the right signs. Below is a generally recognisable example of each kind. You may adapt and extend the descriptions of the signs, depending on the specific situation in your own organistion.


Er bestaan 8 soorten verspilling. Om ze op te sporen moet je de juiste signalen zien en herkennen. We geven hieronder per soort een algemeen herkenbaar voorbeeld. Je kunt de signalen aanpassen en uitbreiden, afhankelijk van de specifieke situatie in jouw organisatie.

#1. Bulky reports

A management report can easily run to 30 pages. All carefully considered and beautifully designed. And a lot of work has obviously been put into it. But was it all actually necessary? Often, it’s not. The recipient has only got a limited need, and perhaps thinks, “Please just give me one clear sheet.” A bulky report is almost always a sign of waste, just like a bill or a contract that you send by post although it could equally well go by email. That’s because you’re putting more work into it than your internal or external customer actually needs. This kind of waste is called overproduction.

#2. Piles of paper

An overflowing inbox on a desk or in Outlook almost always relates to a huge stockpile of work. There are clearly tasks that you haven’t yet got round to. This is a typical case of inventory, a kind of waste which results in a customer or colleague being forced to wait.

#3. An irritated colleague

Mistakes are a huge source of frustration. For instance, if you have to redo your colleague’s work or need to call a customer back to check the policy number. Everything that doesn’t go right first time is a waste of time, money and energy. Do you notice a feeling of irritation? If so, you’ve probably stumbled across a big waster. A source of defects and corrections.

#4. Waiting customers

You may not always see them, but they’re still there: people who are waiting for an answer from a colleague, who are hanging on the line waiting for customer services, or who are waiting for an online order to be delivered. Everywhere that people are waiting, alarm bells should start ringing. That’s because waiting means that a process has been halted; that there’s no flow. And where there’s no flow, there’s waste. Waiting is therefore waste.

#5. People searching for something

In a factory, you can see people literally moving around in order to look for something or to collect something. In an office, that kind of movement is much less visible. Yet it still happens that people go off and look for a pen, a folder or a file on the PC. All of that searching and wandering around falls into the waste category motion, unnecessary moving and searching.

#6. Boredom

We all know what it’s like to deal with boring, routine tasks. Lots of highly-educated specialists spend a lot of their time on registering and typing up data. If you see expensive personnel looking uninspired as they busy themselves doing work that’s actually below their level, or if their boredom is practically dripping off them, you’re undoubtedly seeing a waste of human talent.

#7. Delivery notes

Within your company, look for evidence of items being transported. By post, by cycle courier or by plane – it doesn’t matter. From a customer perspective, shipping a car from Japan to Europe is simply waste. In fact, every form of transport is just a form of waste in the transport category.

#8. Stocking up for later

You tend to come across it in production environments: a pile of products that have already been made. They’ll come in handy for later. Or piles of books in a shop, which have been bought in because the book could well turn into a bestseller. However useful they may seem, if you make more products than you need at that moment, you’re creating waste. We call it overproduction.


Can you prevent every form of waste? We don’t think so. Not today, at any rate. It’s more about becoming aware of the opportunities around you, and about continuously striving to eliminate waste. Striving is the name of the game. You want to continuously improve, you keep striving for perfection, or in the words of the wise, you “strive serenely for the ideal”.
Continuous improvement demands that you take a different look at things, learn to understand them and keep wondering. Do you want to take the first step from changing your perspective to changing your working methods? Call House of Performance.

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