7 Types of Waste in a Business

The 7 Types of Waste in a Business are not an idea that has been around for long. On the contrary, for the past year, lean principles have only been used for manufacturing companies. However now, with the rise of businesses, due attention is being given drive improvement through the management system of companies.

Introduction to the 7 Types of Waste in a Business

We get caught up in work, and don’t really take the time to take a step back, and think about how we are using our time. We don’t think about the internal and external issues, and that’s normal. You’ve already taken the first leap forward in this journey of regaining control over your time. 

These 7 Deadly Sins originated from Japan, precisely from the Toyota Production System. The Toyota Company became successful after World War 2 when Japanese factory owners adopted a number of improvement techniques. Toyota developed a set of procedures that reduced the time required to serve each customer, achieved by eliminating waste – called “Muda”.

Under the lean manufacturing system, seven wastes are identified: overproduction, inventory, motion, defects, over-processing, waiting, and transport. Monitoring the wastes in your business is not one of the ISO 9001 certification requirements, but it will surely help you to improve your business.

In manufacturing companies waste can be easily seen. If you want into a manufacturing plant, you can see inventory piled up, rejects, bottlenecks. This is not the case in a service company, all you’ll see is people working on a computer. Therefore seeing waste is extremely hard in a service company. 

Here, you’ll get an opportunity to glimpse into how you too might be falling into these Wastes that disguise themselves as productivity. 


A clear working space is the sign of a clear mind. A cluttered working space is the sign of a cluttered mind. 

If you don’t have a clean desk, and office, you should definitely start with that. 

But think about the projects that we start and don’t complete. We think that multi-tasking is useful but it’s not. Trying to do multiple things at once, will make us feel overwhelmed, and with an acute feeling of helplessness.

While we wait to get replies, and moving on a project, we tend to start working on another project, to try to fill up our time with activity. And we keep on doing that, ending up with many things to do at once. Our time is the most important asset that we’ll ever have. We can never get it back.

Therefore how we spend our time, is what makes or breaks us. And by focusing on a few things at a time, we manage to get most of our time. 

What we need to do is find, as per lean terms, a ‘bucket’ of number of projects that you can handle. When a project is completed, move that out of the bucket and add something else. 

This applies to both long term projects, and even daily tasks. Lately, I have started to focus on getting 3 things done each day. No matter what, I will get those things done. It might seem like a little, but in a working week of 5 days, I get 15 things done, that are of utmost importance. 


As a business owner of a knowledge-based firm, you don’t move materials, but you move information. Now in general we use email to communicate with others, and email is not that good. 

We try to be efficient, and send short emails, with incomplete thoughts, and we end up chasing emails. As if speed is more important than content. While other people send emails that are too long. See book called ‘hamster revolution’ – reduce the quantity of e-mail by 20%. 

It would be wise to see what types of email you get in your inbox and:

  • Remove subscription to any unnecessary email marketing 
  • See what type of work email you don’t need your staff to copy you in
  • See what type of email is important 

Most importantly, don’t make checking your email a constant habit. In today’s fast-paced world, people do expect a quick reply, but that doesn’t mean that you need to sit on your desk all day waiting for emails to come. Allocate 1 or 2 slots per day to reply to emails, when you know you will not be interrupted. 


The movement we do in a knowledge-based service isn’t movement in the physical world, but rather mental motion. Searching for info our mind; looking through the computer. 

Say we look for 30 files a day on our computer. If that takes 2 each time, that’s 1 hour a day looking for files. Moreover, as we are looking for files, we find other info we were looking for some other day, and take action on that. End up doing random tasks; getting lost. Organise your filing system based on the 5S methodology: 

  • Sort – find files you don’t need and remove them
  • Order – creating a folder structure that that’s intuitive for you
  • Shine – keep the filing structure free from clutter 
  • Standardise – standardise cleanup – the state that exists when the first three pillars are properly maintained. Which folder will you clean and when? 
  • Sustain – making a habit of properly maintaining an organised filing structure 

I also suggest reading the book called ‘hamster revolution’ COTA(Customer OutputsTream Administrative stuff) 


Unlike in manufacturing, here we are not referring to a finished product that is waiting, but rather keep others or ourselves waiting. Waiting for approvals, for decisions, or for information. 

When we wait, we get distracted and start doing something else. In that period of time. Think! Or sort out your computer, but don’t start something else.

The problem of waiting can be easily solved by working in a team.  


Not just product defects, but service defects – known as mistakes. These are known as corrective actions and non-conformities in ISO 9001 jargon. These cause problems and are embarrassing. In services, we pass defects to other people, and these causes re-work, and that takes a lot of time. 

When making mistakes, the problem isn’t that we’re not smart enough to do the task at hand, we know what needs to be done. The problem is that since we have a lot on our minds, we tend to forget stuff. 

That’s why we need checklists. 


One of the most common Deadly Sin I see with business owners. 

Handling something more times than the customer needs. Multi-tasking. We seem to live in a culture where interruption is the norm, not the exception. Phones ringing, notifications on phone and computer, people walking to our desks at unplanned moments. All causing us to be continually starting and stopping work on a particular task. 

By engaging in a conversation when you are not prepared for it, you are doing a disservice to both yourself, and your employee / client. Since you were focusing on something else, you can’t just switch and give you 100% attention to the person who’s interrupted you. 

Not even computers can handle two requests at a time. They do it so fast that we don’t even notice. 

What we do is switch tasking (as per ‘the myth of multitasking’ book). 

People doing 2 things at the same time spend 20-40% more time than needed, and we actually make more mistakes. 

How would you need to structure your working routine to ensure that you’ll have time to deliver your intended results on each role, without being interrupted. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an open door policy. It just means that your door shouldn’t be open from 8am to 8pm. It simply means that you must establish boundaries on your available time for each role that you fulfill. 


Working too much, too early. If we create information too early than needed, it because obsolete by the time it is actually needed. And that’s a tremendous cost. Through proper implementation of ISO 9001, you will have better visibility of what are the value-adding activities required by your customer, making sure that you’ll do the right task at the right time.

Case Study

Did I have a productive day?


I received this email from a particular client saying:

To continue building on, I sincerely believe, the promising way forward, today I deviated from what I initially planned i.e. to finish a client’s drawing. I know that this client is a big rock but I had to deviate due to the following:

  • Emails – 0.5hours
  • Another client- quote, appointment, process plan, google calendar, maintenance sheets – 0.75hours 
  • Original client – Drawings – 1 hour (planned the whole day)
  • Arrival of Materials – 0.5hours
  • Supplier Ordering of material – 15mins
  • Meeting with Luke – 1.5 hours  (Was planned)
  • Client – Updated process plan so guys can start filling up the data – 30mins (took so long as from phase 1 I needed to take to phase 3)

Why am I sending you all this? I need your opinion/guidance as this is one of those days that I feel good as all the above is to have a structured way of working which we have been wanting to do this since I can remember but at the same time, I will not manage to finish what I planned, at least not everything. Do you call this a productive day or not? 
As always I look forward to your constructive feedback.


Thank you for your email, and for seeking to refine your way of doing things.

I think that planning a full day one big task is hard to predict. Therefore, I would have chunked it down into around x4 chunks – with specific deliverables that are to be delivered when each of the chunk is completed. 

The other tasks you have completed were all important and needed attention. Therefore you are right to feel that you did good work today. 
It is better to plan less (around 60%) of your day, and achieve all that – and then some more tasks that crop up. Going forward, all tasks relating to a project will be handled through process plan – and therefore you will have a better understanding of the work that is due in the given week – which can help you plan your time better. 

What I certainly suggest is that you use Google Calendar to plan your time. I use green for meetings and orange for internal work. And plan each day with meetings and internal work that is required. When I don’t manage to do something I drag it to another day. Most importantly I don’t overbook the day because I know that new tasks will crop up on me. So on the calendar, for your main client, I would have had x4 slots over 2/3 days each with a deliverable that is to obtain in that slot, and I would make this slot as long as I plan to work – example 3 hours straight (no interruptions). 

To know whether your day was productive or not, measure your results based on this chart. Results obtained by multiplying the number of minutes spent on the activities with the points as follows:

  • Quad 1: 1 point
  • Quad 2: 5 points
  • Quad 3: -1 point
  • Quad 4: -5 points


To some extent, any activity will have a certain degree of each of the 7 Types of Waste in a Service Business. Through Business Process Re-engineering activities in Malta, our aim as leaders is to identify the most critical wastes and implement continual improvement methodologies to mitigate such wastes.

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