the seven muda

Lean manufacturing rests upon the idea that waste reduction can help you work more efficiently and be more profitable. Waste reduction is based on the notion that processes either add value or create waste to the production of a product or service. But waste can take many forms. It is anything that does not add value to the end-product.

The idea of the seven muda (wastes), stems from the Toyota Production System (TPS). The founder of TPS, Taiichi Ohno, discovered three main roadblocks that negatively impact the company’s work process:

  • muda or wasteful activities
  • muri or the overburden of workers
  • mura or unevenness.

Then, after careful observation and analysis, he broke down Muda into 7 different types of waste. Now, the 7 muda, or seven wastes, is a popular tool for resource optimization and reduction of costs.

Optimizing the Process – Identifying Waste

When we talk about waste in Lean, we refer to any activity that consumes resources but does not create value for the end consumers. But the reality is quite different. Only a small portion of the activities that are part of the process creates real value. That’s why businesses should focus on reducing wasteful activities as much as possible. And by doing that, they can identify numerous ways to improve their performance.

But don’t be mistaken. You can’t eliminate all wasteful activities from the process. Some of them are truly necessary. In fact, there are two major types of waste: necessary muda (waste) and pure muda (waste).

The necessary waste actions may not be value-adding in an obvious way, but they ensure work is properly done, and the product/service doesn’t lose quality. The pure waste actions though are not only non-value adding, but also unnecessary. These actions can be removed from the process. Therefore, save resources and cut time and costs.

While traditionally, there are seven muda, but today’s modern work environment produces one more type of waste. As a result, we have the acronym: DOWNTIME that stands for:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Not using talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory excess
  • Motion waste
  • Excess processing

The Seven Wastes (Muda)

The 7 muda, more popular as the seven wastes of Lean is part of almost any production process. With careful observation and exploration, you can easily identify wasteful activities and improve your overall process. Let’s explore them.


Defects are mistakes. And when they happen, those part or components require additional work. They are either reworked, repaired or scraped. Defects can happen due to machine or human errors. If the reason is not identified and resolved. Otherwise, the defects can lead to more defects and other wastes. Complete elimination of this muda is impossible. But can be limited by applying stricter control and documentation of procedures.


The wastes created by overproduction are due to workers continuing to work and create output. Even if that output can’t be processed because workers responsible for the next step are not ready or do not need the output till a specific moment. One way to resolve overproduction is to improve planning and coordination. Additionally, implementation of process standardization can help regulate all processes. And also assist with bottlenecks’ identification and removing. In addition to implementing standardization, you should also set a monitoring an measuring system to improve the transparency of the entire process.

Portfolio Kanban - Reduce Overburden - Improve Flow


Waiting times are a result of interruptions. They can happen when there’s a lack of materials or information, pending approval, or perhaps due to a machine malfunction. As a result, workers cannot continue working. One way to remove this muda is to improve communication. This allows for better coordination and adds flexibility to the operational processes.

Not using talent***

This is a new waste, and not part of the original seven wastes (muda) of TPS. But not utilizing employees’ talents (and creativity) is increasingly considered as waste. Many employees have talents, abilities, and knowledge that can be very beneficial to the organization. But they are never included during decision-making. Not-utilizing talent directly lowers employee motivation and engagement, and worst, employees’ productivity. The best way to not let talent go to waste is to encourage decision-making and providing training, processes, and tools for continuous improvement and measurement.

eight muda of lean


The transportation muda happens when things move from one point to the other. Transportation of resources doesn’t add value, but actually increases costs. So instead of excessively moving materials, you can lower transportation waste by reorganizing your physical space to simplify the process. When you set less frequent movements of materials or products and shorter distances, the waste is reduced too.

Inventory excess

Keeping excess inventory is almost never good. It causes additional costs and additional muda. And when inventory piles up, it can mask other problems too that must be identified and resolved in order to improve the process. Some problems that excess inventory creates are increasing lead times, blocking the production floor space, or delaying the identification of problems. You can get around this by improving the organization (using a Kanban board) and communication between teams and team members so you can level production with demand and supply.

Motion waste

Motion waste is similar to transportation waste but refers to the movement of goods inside the organization. When goods need to move from one department to the other, or employees need to move to get work done. It can a result of poor working standards, not optimal process design to work area layout. Rearranging work stations, or using proper tools and machines can greatly help in the reduction of motion waste.

Excess processing

Excess processing is another waste that happens when the work process is not organized well, or there’s a lack of documentation. As a result, there are many versions of the same task, several entries of the same data, or more processed goods than necessary. One of the best and most efficient ways to overcome over-processing is to standardize processes. Including, reduction of redundant steps, excess documentation, approvals, and meetings.

Tackling the Seven Wastes (Muda)

The systematic identification and elimination of the seven (eight) muda of Lean lead to increased productivity and employee engagement. Which turn into completing tasks and processes faster, with higher quality, and at lower costs.

However, the elimination of the seven muda is always easier when there is enough data about the entire process. That is why digital technologies can be of tremendous help. They can help you collect, store and analyze large quantities of data. And allow you to interact with it in real time. For example, if you use a digital Kanban dashboard, you can send real-time updates to employees on their wearable devices and alert them about any changes or problems in the process.

In Lean there are many tools organizations can use to identify and eliminate waste. Most of the tools guide you through the process and show you the weaknesses. Some of the tools are Kanban, 5S, Kaizen, 5 Whys, the A3 Reports, etc. Even though some of these tools are used in RCA and problem-solving, they are very helpful when you need to detect waste.

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About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.