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PHOTO: Gary Chan

The core of lean is maximizing customer value while minimizing activities or choices that create waste. It asks how we can create awesome products, services and experiences for our customers while removing actions or steps that lack customer value.

When lean was about manufacturing processes, Toyota identified seven types of waste, and later added an eighth. As these principles were originally about physical products, not all relate directly to digital CX/UX, but let’s see how close we can come.

Toyota’s Eight Types of Lean Waste (Plus a Digital Interpretation):

  1. Defects: A product or service failing to meet customer expectations. This is highly relevant because delivering products, services and experiences with defects is tremendously wasteful. It burns our company’s resources as well as our customers’ patience and loyalty. Teams will have to stop their progress with new work to go back and fix old work. We can improve this by giving CX and UX the time, budget and resources they need. Our workplaces sometimes ship poor experiences because we didn’t do enough research to learn what would best match customers' needs, or we didn’t have the right time or staff to create a better execution. Let’s stop using time as an excuse. We must prioritize quality and customer value over speed.
  2. Overproduction: Making more product than customers demand. This is similar to companies who pile on features without going through proper CX/UX processes to see if these features are wanted, needed or liked.
  3. Waiting: Time spent waiting for the next process step to occur. This could be time wasted in meaningless meetings that seem to keep us from the next task. It could be all the ways we should reduce how our products waste customers’ time. These include hold times for customer support (phone, chat or otherwise), resolution times, interface dead ends, poor error messaging, page load times and Time To Interactive (TTI, the measurement of how long it takes for your screen to allow customer input). There are truly endless opportunities to reduce how much we waste our customers’ time.
  4. Transportation: Time, resources and costs when unnecessarily moving products and materials. This is sometimes given a modern interpretation relating to co-located workers not having to walk so far to each other’s desks. However, with the rise of remote workers and how much the pros of remote working outweigh the cons, this is likely an outdated interpretation. Transportation waste might be more relevant to physical products with no direct analogue in the digital world.
  5. Inventory: Excess products and materials that aren’t processed. This one makes sense for our physical objects and structures, but is less relevant for digital experiences. We could stretch it to mean paying for tools and systems that are unused or underutilized.
  6. Motion: Time and effort related to unnecessary movements by people. This could be the time and effort being spent by our customers. Did we make this fast, easy to learn, and easy to use? Or are our customers wasting time and effort trying to figure things out, having to re-learn something, or struggling with something that’s confusing and non-intuitive?
  7. Extra-Processing: More work or higher quality than is required. This relates to any meetings or working sessions that are not required, and take people away from their core tasks for too long. Did we call a meeting when an email would have sufficed? This might also be the extra-processing of making too much documentation.
  8. Non-Utilized Talent: Underutilization of people’s talents, skills and knowledge. This is absolutely the story of CX and UX workers at many companies around the world. They are hired for their specialized knowledge and abilities, and then given grunt work or turned into a “just put a blue button there” order taker. Their value is often misunderstood while someone tries to save some time or money by skimping on CX/UX process.

Our workplaces frequently commit the lean sin of non-utilized talent. Ask a CX/UX pal how many times they were hired but then not allowed to do their job, not given the time they needed to do something right or well, excluded from meetings or processes, or their expertise dismissed because someone sketched an idea they liked better.

The Toyota Production System Basic Handbook wraps up their explanation of waste with the following quote:

The aim of the Toyota Production System is to ensure that all activity adds value to the product. It is irresponsible to allow non-value adding work to continue. This is disrespectful to the employee and compromises our competitive position. By ensuring that all work is value adding we build employment security into the production system.

That’s worth saying again. "It is irresponsible to allow non-value adding work to continue." It’s disrespectful to employees and it compromises our ability to compete. Focusing on value creates employment security.

Related Article: Translating Lean Thinking Into Lean Performance

Lean Is About Cutting Waste, Not Skimping on Processes or Important Steps

To summarize, we are “leaner” when we are improving how we meet or exceed customer expectations; minimizing clutter and making sure products match customers’ needs; cutting down on unnecessary documentation and meetings; better utilizing workers’ talents, skills and knowledge; investing in better training for our workers; constantly reviewing and refining internal processes; making sure our products and services are intuitive, easy to learn and easy to use; and better prioritizing the work to be done.

Companies who believe they are “leaner” when they have anybody make wireframes, get the whole team together every time CX/UX needs to perform a task, have no documentation (because everybody remembers the meetings they attended), or schedule an hour meeting where 15 minutes (or an email) would do are just wrong. Lean is not about cutting out valuable tasks or professionals who perform mission-critical work. It’s about identifying where we are wasteful and reducing or eliminating that waste.

Related Article: Top 5 Reasons Your Company Isn't Innovating