Business Process Waste Across Silos


Lean, while primarily known for manufacturing, has many tools and ideas that can apply to many industries that have no manufacturing component. Services have wastes, business and operational processes can have waste, software engineering and development has waste… you can find waste everywhere.

In Lean, waste falls into 3 classifications called Muda, Mura, and Muri; or the three Ms. Muda can often be the most neglected of the three when it comes to business processes – especially in regards extra process steps or the flow of information from different points of origin. People can often recognize variations in the process (Mura) and unreasonable stresses placed on parts of the process (Muri), but they fail to look at how the chosen process is leading to wasteful situations.

They can recognize Muda on a smaller scale such as defects within single silos, but fail to recognize the consistent adding up of waste across multiple process steps that cross silos.  Processes spanning multiple departments or groups require the ability to work through silos and gain a visual of the overall system. It also requires buy-in from each of the departments involved, a buy-in that can be hindered by other bureaucratic processes.

For example:

Silo B receives input from Silo A. Silo B can recognize if Silo A gave them a poor quality output. Silo A may even recognize it before giving it to Silo B. No one considers if Silo B is even needed to contribute to the process. Silo C just accepts Silo’s B work, assuming that the entire collection of work they have received is all from Silo B.



clock-3179167_960_720.jpgMuda is any activity that uses up resources and creates no value. Resources can be time, money, skills, or staff.

There are actually two types of Muda and 8 types of waste that fall under the Muda category.

Muda Type 1: This is incidental work that you need to do as part of your business or operational process that may seem essential, or be required to be essential because a correction may not exist or take a large amount of time to implement.

  • Receiving a web-based source of truth (XML), generating your entire work report into a word document based on it, then transferring that word document into a web-based
    • Is it possible to take the original source of truth and apply XML formatting automatically?
    • Due to the higher technical nature, it may not be a process that can be altered quickly, It may involve a larger project with technical staff to come in and alter or create a system for converting the core source of truth into the format required

Muda Type 2: More obvious, Non-value added tasks that can be eliminated almost immediately.

  • An activity where one person works with a customer entering information into an Excel file, then passing that Excel file to another person who enters it into an application and database system.
    • Is it possible to have the associate working with the customer to enter data directly into the application?
    • This may require some reorganization and even training of staff, but the transition shouldn’t require the opening of a large project to implement or any special outside staff.



white-male-2064820_960_720.jpgYou hire and train some new staff to prepare for a busy season, but the next step in your process is unprepared for the surge of people you now have producing reports. This builds up an inventory. With new people just learning, that inventory could hide more defects. Now you run the risk of a new employee getting used to completing their job incorrectly for several weeks until you catch up on the backlog. You have a bunch of errors to fix and an employee who needs to be retrained. That stuff costs time and money.

The 8 types of Muda waste can be remembered with a simple acronym: TIM WOODS.

  • Transportation: The unnecessary movement of people, parts, or information between processes
  • Inventory: Money or space tied up in a backlog of inventory, potentially hiding defects
  • Motion: The unnecessary movement of people, parts, or information within a process
  • Waiting: Waiting for input into a process caused by things like defects, rework, production time differences
  • Over-processing: Processing beyond what the customer is paying for, over-exceeding quality tolerances
  • Over-production: Producing too much, exceeding the input limit of the next step in the process or completing too much product
  • Defects: Errors or quality issues within the final product
  • Staff/Skills Underutilization: Staff is not kept working at a consistent pace or the skills of the staff are not being used or recognized

Some of these types of waste impact others. Over-production can increase inventory which can increase defects. We often think of these types of waste in terms of manufactured product, but in non-manufacturing industries, it is possible to over-process your services or keep too many backlogged tasks in a virtual inventory.

And what causes an issue in one department, can impact another department. It can create a chain reaction of waste; with everyone blaming the prior department for all the defects, delays, or issues.


Tips for Solving Interdepartmental Waste

woman-160281_960_720The first thing I want to do is wish you good luck. I have been involved in trying to do some of this using technology solutions to help streamline processes, you may be in for a rough time.

Here they are, in no specific order (because it may have to all be going on simultaneously), my tips for solving interdepartmental waste.

  • Map the processes

Dive in and figure out where everyone gets their information. Each source of truth document, each output, each input. You want to find the main flow, or as I like to call it, the primary river of information. You need to identify all the tributaries, feeding the river. Beginning to the end. Source to the estuary. Don’t worry, you will probably miss something.

  • Identify Issues

Identify problems within the flow and come up with some possible solutions. You may have to confer with Subject Matter Experts (SME), individuals within the silos, managers, a lot of people. On the bright side, while mapping the process you can usually get ideas for some of the problems people are facing. You just have to find the source.

  • Get buy-in from senior managers

If you are in one of those silos along the information river, this is probably not going to be your manager. It probably won’t even be your manager’s manager. If you can get someone from above the silos involved and excited about fixing the entire process, the easier your job will be.

  • Identify the involved departments

Not only that, identify which pieces of the information river belong to those departments. You may have to work with all of these departments and make requests from them. Figure out who the contacts are and treat them with respect. You may fail at getting buy-in from a senior manager completely, and if that happens you have to rely solely on your ability to negotiate with these guys.


  • Think small at first

It is much easier to fix small things that do not mess with the process much and deliver large value than it is to implement wide sweeping changes. Wide sweeping changes face much greater risk of resistance.

Unfortunately, not every issue is going to be a small change with a huge positive impact (almost none). But small changes with some positive impact is also a good thing. Focus on those before considering huge changes to the entire system.

  • Then shoot for the moon

Be happy if you can get out of the atmosphere. It doesn’t hurt to present your huge and wide sweeping changes for consideration. The worst they will probably do is tell you no. I have been told no dozens of times, I am still here. I have been told no, then after months of persistence, got a yes out of them.

  • Additional things to consider

Fear about the impact on employees and their jobs can cause huge resistance; which is understandable. Try to come up with alternatives first, but consider the implications of putting forth an idea where it is fairly clear that positions are being eliminated (imagine if it was your own job going away).

The best scenario you can hope for here, is that you have the ability to help someone transfer within the company or figure out a way to still use their skills within the process. I have heard no because one of my suggestions projected a cut in the need of relying on temporary workers during the busy season. The manager was concerned it would cause managers above them to lay off permanent staff. You have to admire a manager trying to look out for their people.



We can look within our silo and recognize that we are producing garbage product, but we cannot always recognize if the waste is being accumulated by the entire process. As long as each process produces the desired result, it may not even be noticed that there is a problem.

In most cases, your job is defined by working within that silo. Why would even both to consider the whole process? Or perhaps you have, and you recognize it is your department that is not actually needed – and in that case you may not want to call attention to it.



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Categories: Lean Six Sigma

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