Identifying Waste in Business Processes

To help managers identify and minimize waste, Lean Management defines eight specific types of waste that exist in manufacturing processes across all industries. Waste consumes resources, including hired labor, but fails to generate any value in return. To quote Ben Hartman, author of Lean Farming, waste is “any activity that does not add value” to the end product or customer.

Below we define the eight types of waste and illustrate each one with examples commonly seen on dairy farms. Which of these examples resonate with you? While all eight types of waste are present in most farming operations, the first four - motion, waiting, transportation, and inventory - may offer the greatest opportunity to improve labor efficiency and effectiveness on dairies.

Eight Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

farm machinery loading grain

1. Motion

Motion waste refers to any unnecessary steps or movements in the production processes that add no value. A classic example of motion waste is time spent walking around the farm to locate supplies or equipment to complete a simple task. Motion waste is ubiquitous on farms and it shows up in many routine production activities, from vehicle maintenance in the shop, to gate repair in the barn, to treatment of fresh cows and calves. Any time tools or materials are difficult to find, or stored far from the location of their use, motion waste follows.

2. Waiting

Lean Management defines waiting as any pause or delay in production activities, when people or machines are idle. Waiting may be a response to a lack of information, such as employees waiting for directions from their supervisor. Workers may also find themselves waiting for equipment to become available, or for someone else to finish a task or get out of their way, before they can complete the next task on their list. For instance, if the feeding schedule results in gate alignments that delay cow traffic to and from the parlor, cow pushers and milkers end up waiting for the feeder to finish delivering feed. 

3. Transportation

Transportation waste refers to the unnecessary or inefficient movement of materials, equipment, or animals from one place on the farm to another. Transportation waste consumes time and fuel, and adds wear and tear to equipment. Consider a farm that delivers bedding to one location, then loads and moves it to another spot, before loading it again and spreading it. Each time someone handles the bedding, costs associated with labor, fuel, machinery, and shrink go up without adding any value to the bedding.

In a second example, a farm stores forages in multiple bunkers in different areas. An employee uses a payloader to scoop and transport forages to the feed center. The loader moves a small amount of feed each trip, and the majority of its hours are spent moving feed. This inefficient movement of materials is a clear example of transportation waste.

4. Inventory

Inventory waste refers to the storage of excessive parts or supplies. For the many farmers who value thrift, it can be difficult to get rid of broken, outdated, or otherwise useless items, due to the belief these items might have use someday. However, maintaining excess inventory leads to one of two common labor inefficiencies. Either someone on the farm needs to spend extra time organizing the extra inventory, or, if it becomes disorganized, it will take extra time for people to find the useful items among the clutter. In some cases, excess inventory may never be used, especially if it expires or becomes irrelevant after a certain period.

Consider a dairy that heaps parlor supplies and maintenance items in a storeroom at the milking center. When an employee needs to repair a milking unit, the milking operation is disrupted while that employee searches for the correct part. Cleaning chemicals that are not stored correctly may leak or spill, contaminating other items and further delaying the search. When the employee cannot find the part, they call the owner for help, causing further disruption to the manager’s schedule.

5. Defects

Defects refer to mistakes, disruptions, or poor quality in production systems. Defects add to the workload of the people who must respond to and correct them, taking time away from value-adding production tasks and hindering overall performance. Consider the movement of milking cows to and from the parlor when gates are not staged properly and cow groups get mixed up. This disruption requires additional labor to sort cows, and upsets the cows’ daily routine. Milking a treated cow into the tank is an obvious defect that leads to loss of saleable milk. Eliminating this defect has been a management focus for many years, but it still occurs.    

6. Overproduction

Overproduction waste refers to making more product than is currently needed. In daily operations on a dairy farm, this includes preparing more of a production input than can be used in a timely manner. Defacing more silage than is needed for the immediate feeding cycle and saving the extra forage to feed during the next cycle is one example of overproduction. Another example is scheduling routine preventative maintenance before it is recommended by the manufacturer, for instance, routinely changing oil twice as frequently as needed.

7. Extra Processing

Lean Management classifies production activities that add no value to the final product as extra processing waste. Examples from the dairy context include over-milking cows or mixing feed longer than required. These activities add no value, yet they utilize labor and other inputs while driving up costs.

8. Non-utilized Talent

Failure to recognize or utilize employee skill sets to their full potential is a type of waste that Lean Management calls non-utilized talent. This type of waste can occur when managers are unaware of their employee’s abilities, or if they are unable or unwilling to use them. Imagine a manager who speaks a different language than his employees and does not know that one of the milkers is an experienced mechanic and welder. If managers do not know the full extent of their workers’ abilities, they risk underutilizing their talents. A senior operator who refuses to delegate tasks to a capable team member is another example of non-utilized talent.

Practice Identifying Waste in Production Activities

Learning about the eight types of waste in Lean Management gives farm operators a new framework to identify and classify waste in production activities. Once you adopt this framework, waste may become apparent everywhere you look! Some activities generate multiple types of waste, providing ample opportunities for business improvement.

With practice, managers and employees can hone their ability to recognize waste in daily operations. Here is an opportunity to check your understanding of the eight waste categories and test your observational skills. Watch this short video of a feed loading activity. What do you see in this video? What wastes can you identify? Which of the eight categories of waste do you recognize?


What kinds of waste did you see in the video?

Transportation Waste

Extra Processing

Labor Hours

Equipment Maintenance



Video Analysis

This video shows a loader moving haylage from a bunk face to a mixer truck, and loading it into the truck. Lean Management considers any inefficiencies in the movement of materials from one place to another to be “transportation waste,” which is the primary category of waste in this video. Specifically, the loader turns 180 degrees between scooping and loading, which increases travel time and distance. This inefficient movement utilizes additional labor hours and fuel without adding any value to the feed. It also increases shrink, as the longer travel distance creates more opportunity for feed to fall out of the bucket. Over time, adding extra seconds to each load will put extra hours on the loader, necessitating more frequent preventative maintenance.

A second category of waste in this video is “extra processing.” Extra processing waste refers to production activities that add no value to the final product. In this example, the operator shakes the bucket numerous times to dump the haylage into the mixer truck. All that shaking adds no value to the feed, but does add time to the loading activity, while putting extra wear and tear on the loader. Just like the transportation waste example, this extra processing waste consumes additional labor and fuel, and accelerates the loader’s preventative maintenance schedule. We can also anticipate additional repair costs associated with replacing pins and bushing on the loader, due to the excessive shaking.

How does the waste we observe in this example affect the farm’s financial performance? The cost of wasted fuel, labor, and feed might be small for each bucket of haylage loaded into the mixer. However, this activity occurs multiple times per day, every single day. An improvement that could save a few seconds per load might save hours per year, which could translate to thousands of dollars in reduced expenses. Slowing down the frequency of preventative maintenance and repairs would generate additional savings.

In some cases, operators may be able to minimize waste with low-cost or no-cost improvements. In this example, could the operator park the mixer truck in a different location to cut travel time for the loader? Could the loader use a ramp or a tip-forward bucket to save time dumping haylage into the mixer truck? These are questions to consider when planning improvements. However, identifying waste in production processes is the starting point and foundation for planning process improvements.