Where can you find waste and inefficiency?

by bobroan on April 12, 2013

Productivity increases come from eliminating waste and doing things more efficiently

If you were on the hunt for waste and inefficiency in your operations, where would you most likely find them?  How would you recognize them?

This article will give you some ideas about where to start.

Waste and inefficiency are closely related, but different.

You increase efficiency by replacing one process with another, e.g. instead of filling out a form by paper, you create an online form.  You decrease waste by removing discrete elements from a process, e.g. stop asking for a certain piece of information because you never use it.

Here are some possible sources of waste and inefficiency:

    • Looking up information
    • Entering data
    • Coordinating people
    • Preparing first drafts
    • Answering questions
    • Irrelevant work
    • Lack of information

Here are some things you can do about them.

Looking up information: When you create a document, think about how it will be used

Psychologically go to that use and think of how you’d like to reference the document in that context and then create whatever structure you need to do that instead of waiting until you’re in that use and need the information. An added benefit is that when you do it on creation, it’s easier to have a procedure you follow.​

This could mean

      • Putting it into a FAQ,
      • Adding keywords, and/or
      • Including a link to it in another document.  Then, when you’re using that other document you have the link there.


Enter​ing data: Look for these data entry related inefficiencies:

    • Entering the same data multiple times,
    • Manual cutting and pasting, and
    • Verifying information people have entered


Coordinating people: If you’re coordinating a number of people on a project by using email to synchronize with existing systems and procedures there are probably inefficiencies.  Setting up a structure which people use to update you on their status can allow you to automate the notification of the next person in the process that a task is ready for them and to provide that person with the information they need to do their job

Preparing first drafts can be inefficient.  Here are some places to look:

    • Email – Much of the manual work (addressing, adding attachments, and even creating the subject and first draft text) could probably be automated.  In some cases, you’ll want to manually finalize the email, but in others it could be sent automatically
    • Creating the current version of a spreadsheet or other document used to measure progress can be inefficient.  If you keep track of how a customer or client is doing (compared to a goal or starting point) by creating a series of similar documents over time, a lot of that can probably be automated.
    • If you have some sort o​f set up process you go through with customers/vendors/employees, it can probably be automated whether it’s for the initial set up or something you do each time you have contact with them.

Answering questions: If you’re answering the same questions multiple times, a FAQ or wiki could help because you’d only have to answer the question once and then people could reference your answer without involving you.

Irrelevant work: Are you doing things and/or collecting information that you never use?  Times change.  Customer needs change.  Everything changes.  Work that once contributed to your success may no longer be necessary, but many systems and procedures contain residue from the past.  Just looking at what you’re doing and asking why it matters can lead to a streamlining of your operations.

Lack of information:  The actual way you make decisions is outside the scope of this article, but whatever your methodology, you may be making those decisions inefficiently because the information relevant to those decisions is not easily accessible.  Deconstructing those decisions is the first step in understanding what you need and then setting up systems to deliver what you need is the next.

What do you think?​

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