Business | Lean Methodology

Eight Wastes Lean Six Sigma Aims to Eliminate – Part 1

Words by Alex Matheson
Eight Wastes Lean Six Sigma Aims to Eliminate – Part 1

Welcome back to our series of articles on lean methodology! We’ve already discussed the origins of lean and the emergence of Lean Six Sigma, be sure to read those if you haven’t already.

This week we’re delving deeper into the latter, and starting to look at the eight kinds of waste that Lean Six Sigma aims to eliminate.

As we’ve discussed previously; lean methodology, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma all have the ultimate goal of providing maximum customer value for minimum waste.

But, how do we define that waste? What types of waste are most important to focus on? How do we eliminate them once we’ve identified them?

What are the eight wastes of Lean Six Sigma?

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Non-utilised talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Extra processing

For the eagle eyed among you, you’ll notice that the eight types of waste form an acrostic which spells out ‘downtime’. Unsurprisingly, that’s not a coincidence. The idea of downtime being waste goes all the way back to the origins of lean methodology.

That’s where the Toyota Production System (TPS) sought to minimise waste by ensuring their manufacturing lines were productive at all times. Less downtime meant greater output resulting in the maximum value in the customers hands with minimum waste.

Let’s take a closer look at the first four of these waste types. We’ll come back and cover the final four next week, don’t worry!


This is, and always has been, the main focus of Six Sigma. As a result it obviously plays a key role in Lean Six Sigma. For a process to be classified as Six Sigma, it needs to produce fewer than 3.4 defects for every million defect production opportunities.

Defects take time and resources to put right, or if they can’t be corrected then they result in a product that can’t be sold. To eliminate defects, you need to be sure your equipment and systems are capable of achieving Six Sigma levels of process excellence.

That means predictive maintenance, high levels of staff training, and systems that can track and trace defects as they occur.


Overproduction happens when you’re not keeping a close eye on the needs of the customer you’re trying to provide value to. Looking back at the TPS, this relates to the concept of ‘Just-in-Time’ manufacturing.

If you know what your customer wants, how much of it they want, and when they want it, then you can avoid overproduction. The difficulty here is that these factors will always be shifting. You can’t necessarily predict it, but with the right systems you can come close.

By integrating your processes with the systems that deal with customer fulfilment and demand, your manufacturing can work in tandem with demand. You can produce what’s going to sell and avoid wasted products finding their ways onto shelves forevermore.


Waiting, in many ways, can tie into overproduction. While you don’t want your equipment producing something that’s not ultimately going to provide value to a customer, you also don’t necessarily want it doing nothing at all.

This goes for the people in your organisation too. Completely eliminating downtime might be an unachievable goal, but if you have a proper understanding of the resources available to you, downtime can be turned into something more productive.

By forecasting the needs of your customers accurately, you can ensure that your people and your equipment aren’t left waiting around to create your product. And, if you know there is going to be a dip in demand, you can use that downtime to diversify and innovate.

Non-utilised talent

This is really the only Lean Six Sigma waste type that is truly separate from production processes. Because it deals with people specifically, it also has the potential to be one of the more complicated to eliminate.

Utilisation of talent is really a subjective thing and it’s unique to each employee and each manager. As are the means of eliminating it as a form of waste. It involves nurturing an environment where the people in your organisation feel able to express themselves.

If you have clear communication between management and employees, you’ll be able to see where talent is being underutilised. You’ll also, with the right management, be able to spot opportunities for growth that will lead to a more productive and innovative workforce.

What’s next?

Well, we’ve covered ‘down’, which means next week we’ll cover ‘time’. At that point, you’ll have a good understanding of what lean is, how it’s methodologies have developed and what it hopes to eliminate. See you next week!