What are you Waiting for?

Updated: Oct 7, 2019


We were recently invited to speak at the most prestigious business school in one of the major European capitals.

It was a great opportunity for us to share our experiences in implementing Lean within an Office environment, and much interest surrounded the topic of DOWNTIME, an acronym for the eight Wastes.

When we put together a list of examples for each type of waste that can be found in the office, we realised that by far the largest is the W - Waiting. Or re-phrased "chasing" as a result of "Waiting".

Here is a list of common areas where you can expect to find Waiting waste in the office.

Waiting for...

  • People

  • Paper

  • Machines to output

  • Information

  • Responses

  • Approvals

  • Signatures

  • Supplies

  • Meeting room availability

  • The next step in the process

  • Attendees late for meetings

  • ...

One tool relevant for this area, is a Value Stream Map. A VSM helps you to identify the key steps in an end to end process, and to calculate Waiting time in between. It also helps identify loop backs, these are steps in a process where you did not get the correct or required answer the first time round, and had to repeat your request and ask for further information, approval or clarification. These are another huge waste in the office. A Value Stream Map should be reviewed regularly, or at minimum once per year.

Each time your team or work group reviews a VSM, they are likely to find even better ways to improve on an existing process, therefore forming a continuous improvement cycle. You are also likely to work more closely with other teams, departments and functions. This increases your internal networking, helps to understand how your process impacts (positively or negatively) on others, and implement changes cross-functionally which is a benefit for both your customer and your company.

Waiting is a great waste for focus, working across the business to reduce the waiting steps as much as possible. Customers are not willing to pay for Waiting, they themselves dislike waiting as much as an administrator has. Ideally, nobody should have a “pending” folder. Everything in an office environment should flow quickly with as few steps as possible to avoid the need to wait.


Do you enjoy waiting for a bus or a plane to arrive, not knowing at which time exactly it will appear? Administrative processes are the same. What information can you give to customers during a wait period? Very little, as you do not know yourself how long it will take for an approval to come back, for a report to output, or supplies to be delivered. You have a good idea, but you can’t be sure.

As an example. A global leader has a weekly staff call with 7 direct reports (director level). Estimated cost for 4 people on the team systematically showing up late 10 minutes cost about 2-month salary for an entry level employee for the company.

Take a look at your processes closely for “Waiting" waste, you will be surprised just how much can be reduced in small steps.

Remember - Customers want products and services, at a GOOD price, with a QUICK DELIVERY time. They are not prepared to wait.

Go create your Waiting Waste team, there is never a moment to waste :O)