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Eliminate Non-Value Added Activities in Your Organization

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, Kaizen (254-slide PowerPoint presentation). Explore the evolution of Kaizen, a transformative strategy originating in the 1980s that has revolutionized the success of renowned Japanese companies like Toyota. Beyond a conventional management concept, Kaizen is a dynamic and contemporary approach to achieving continuous improvement, [read more]

Also, if you are interested in becoming an expert on Process Improvement, take a look at Flevy's Process Improvement Frameworks offering here. This is a curated collection of best practice frameworks based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. By learning and applying these concepts, you can you stay ahead of the curve. Full details here.

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Regardless of economic conditions–recession or boom–organizations must continuously sharpen their competitive edge. This can be achieved through Lean Management principles focused on Cost Reduction, specifically targeting the elimination of non-value-added (NVA) activities or waste within value stream processes.

Be Lean

In the Lean Management philosophy, all activities in an organization are grouped into two categories:

  • value-added (VA) activities, and
  • non-value-added (NVA) activities.

In the context of Lean Management, VA and NVA activities are viewed from the customer’s perspective.

Value-added activities are those that directly enhance the product or service from the customer’s perspective, making it more desirable or functional. Value added activities examples include entering orders, ordering materials, laying foundations, creating codes, assembling parts, and shipping of goods to customers. Customers are willing to pay for these improvements that can change the form, fit or function of a product or service.

Let’s look at a specific example with the production of smartphones.  Value-added activities include those activities that transform the raw materials into the finished smartphone product, for which the customer is willing to pay.  Value adding activities examples in this scenario include molding, cutting, drilling, assembling parts, etc.

Conversely, NVA activities do not contribute to the product’s market form or function, representing steps in the process that the customer would not be willing to pay for. Common examples include filing, copying, recording, waiting, counting, checking, inspecting, testing, reviewing, and obtaining approvals. These activities should be identified and targeted for elimination, simplification, or reduction.

By tackling wastes from an end-to-end business process, not only can your company improve the value of its products and services, you can also achieve significant cost reduction, strengthen cash flow and emerge from the downturn with a stronger and more competitive profile.

7 Sources of Waste

There are seven sources of waste in a manufacturing environment.  (Learn more about Lean Manufacturing here.)


Studies have shown that in a typical organization, some 90% or more of all activities fall into the NVA bucket.

Although the explanations and examples provided below may be more relevant to manufacturing industries, the concepts can be universally applied to service industries as well.

The seven sources of waste are:

1. Waiting

This is the idle time resulting from waiting for materials and information, e-mail queues from customers, delayed shipments, equipment or system downtime, and so on. Waiting disrupts the flow of production, leading to delays and inefficiencies. Reducing waiting times can significantly enhance productivity and streamline operations.

Tip: Implement a pull system to ensure materials and information flow seamlessly through the production process, reducing idle times and improving overall efficiency.

2. Over-processing

This results from unnecessary procedures due to undefined customer requirements, lack of effective communication, product changes without process changes, redundant approvals, making extra copies, and excessive reporting. Over-processing not only wastes time but also consumes additional resources without adding value. Understanding customer needs clearly can help minimize these unnecessary steps.

Tip: Regularly review and streamline your processes to eliminate redundant steps and ensure every action adds value to the end product.

3. Defects

These are errors, scrap, rework, replacements, re-inspection, and re-testing. The causes are incorrect data entries, poor quality, weak process control, inadequate training, deficient planned maintenance, and customer needs that were not understood. Defects lead to additional costs and delays as faulty products require correction or replacement.

Tip: Implement robust quality control measures and provide ongoing training to employees to reduce the occurrence of defects and ensure high standards of production.

4. Excess motion

This refers to any movement of people or machines that does not add value to the product or service. Common causes are poor plant or office layout, double handling, inconsistent work methods, and poor workplace organization. Excess motion increases the time and effort required to complete tasks, leading to inefficiencies.

Tip: Optimize workplace layout and design efficient workstations to minimize unnecessary movement and enhance productivity.

5. Transportation

This refers to the transporting of parts, materials, and files or documents around the plant or office. The causes are poor plant or office layout, widely spaced equipment and workstations, and poor understanding of the process flow. Excessive transportation can lead to delays, increased costs, and potential damage to materials.

Tip: Design a more efficient layout for your facility, grouping related processes close together to reduce transportation needs and streamline workflow.

6. Over-production

This happens when you make too much, too early, and faster than is required by the next process. The causes include unclear goals, excessive lead times, and outdated forecasts. Over-production ties up resources in unsold goods and can lead to increased inventory costs and waste.

Tip: Implement Just-In-Time (JIT) production to align your batch sizes precisely with customer demand. This minimizes excess inventory and overproduction, ensuring resources are used efficiently. Regularly review demand forecasts and adjust production schedules accordingly to maintain this balance.

7. Excess inventory

This happens when you have more inventory than is needed for a job. Excess inventory ties up capital and storage space and increases the risk of obsolescence and damage. It is important to tackle excess inventory as it has a huge impact on cash flow.

Tip: Review your materials purchasing strategy — where can you buy them at a cheaper price, in smaller amounts and have them delivered to you more frequently? Implement inventory management systems to maintain optimal stock levels and reduce excess.

It’s critical to note that recognizing and eliminating non-value-added activities is not just a cost-cutting exercise, but a strategic imperative that can transform an organization. By meticulously identifying and addressing each type of waste, companies can unlock hidden potential within their operations, leading to enhanced efficiency, reduced costs, and a more agile and responsive business model. This holistic approach ensures that improvements are not only implemented but also sustained over the long term, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Eliminate the Waste

The ability to identify waste in your organization is the first step towards its elimination.

The next step is to set up problem-solving teams and enable them to reduce or eliminate the wastes.  A common problem-solving technique is the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) approach.  (Learn more about PDCA tools and techniques here.)

Involve your employees in problem-solving or process improvement.  If they know that they are an active part of the solution, they can identify sources of waste or savings that you might not be aware of.

Do note that not all waste is of equal importance. You will need to identify the “right waste” — those that have the greatest impact on the business case or bottom line.

Continuous Process

For waste elimination to be successful and sustainable, an organization’s senior executives need to adopt a mindset that cutting waste to cut costs is an on-going journey of continuous improvement.  It has to be a collaborative effort between management and employees.

A common mistake for senior executives to avoid is to treat waste elimination as another one-off “tool” or quick fix. It is essential to manage waste elimination as a strategic change initiative that is aligned to the organization’s vision, encompassing both cultural and process transformations.

Cost of Non-Value Added Activities

NVA activities may appear innocuous on the surface, but their hidden costs can accumulate over time, impacting an organization’s financial health. These costs go beyond the immediate expenses and touch various aspects of the business:

  • Resource Drain: Non-value added activities tie up precious resources—time, labor, materials—that could otherwise be allocated to revenue-generating endeavors.
  • Operational Inefficiency: Such activities introduce unnecessary steps, elongating process times and increasing the chances of errors, rework, and delays.
  • Opportunity Loss: When employees are engaged in non-value added tasks, they’re diverted from strategic and innovative activities that drive growth and competitive advantage.
  • Customer Dissatisfaction: Prolonged processes and unnecessary touchpoints lead to frustrated customers, deteriorating brand image, and lost customer loyalty.

To underline the point, consider this: a study found that non-value added activities could consume up to 80% of employees’ time. By recognizing and eliminating these activities, organizations can unlock significant operational and financial gains.

Strategic Alignment and Non-Value Added Activities

Aligning waste elimination efforts with an organization’s strategic objectives is pivotal for sustained success. Here’s how strategic alignment and waste elimination are intertwined:

  • Resource Focus: Prioritize waste reduction in areas that align with the organization’s strategic goals, ensuring that resources are dedicated to endeavors that truly matter.
  • Customer-Centricity: Strategic alignment ensures that waste reduction efforts resonate with customer needs and preferences, enhancing the overall customer experience.
  • Innovation Facilitation: Freed resources from waste elimination can be strategically reinvested in innovation, allowing organizations to stay competitive and adapt to changing market demands.
  • Holistic Improvement: Strategic alignment ensures that waste reduction isn’t isolated but permeates every facet of the organization, resulting in a cohesive culture of continuous improvement.

Strategic alignment not only maximizes the impact of waste elimination efforts, but also demonstrates that every action taken is in pursuit of the organization’s overarching vision.

Measuring the Success of Waste Elimination

Measuring the success of waste elimination initiatives is crucial to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts. Consider these metrics:

  • Cycle Time Reduction: Track the time taken for processes before and after waste elimination to gauge efficiency improvements.
  • Cost Savings: Quantify the direct cost savings achieved by eliminating unnecessary steps, rework, and resource wastage.
  • Quality Enhancement: Measure the reduction in errors and defects resulting from streamlined processes, leading to improved overall quality.
  • Employee Engagement: Gauge employee satisfaction and engagement levels as they witness the positive impact of waste elimination on their work.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Monitor customer feedback and satisfaction scores to assess whether waste elimination efforts positively influence their experience.

Remember, measuring the success of waste elimination isn’t just about numbers—it’s about tangible improvements in operational efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and the overall experience for both employees and customers.

To further emphasize a previous point, the essence of effective waste elimination lies in creating a culture where continuous improvement is not just encouraged, but ingrained in the organizational DNA. Senior executives must lead by example, fostering an environment where every employee feels empowered and responsible for identifying and reducing waste. This cultural shift transforms waste elimination from a periodic exercise into a continuous, proactive pursuit of excellence.

Furthermore, the integration of digital tools and data analytics can significantly enhance waste identification and elimination efforts. By leveraging real-time data and advanced analytics, organizations can pinpoint inefficiencies with greater accuracy and implement solutions more swiftly. This technological synergy not only streamlines processes but also drives innovation, enabling companies to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive market.

Embracing these strategies ensures that waste elimination efforts are not only effective, but also sustainable in the long term.

Case Studies of Successful Waste Elimination

Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the transformative power of waste elimination:

  • Toyota: The pioneer of Lean principles, Toyota, eliminated waste in its production processes, resulting in reduced inventory, faster production cycles, and higher customer satisfaction.
  • Amazon: Through meticulous waste reduction, Amazon optimized its order fulfillment process, enhancing customer experiences by reducing delivery times.
  • GE Aviation: By targeting waste in aircraft engine maintenance processes, GE Aviation significantly improved turnaround times, reducing downtime for clients and increasing their competitive edge.

These case studies underscore that waste elimination isn’t just theory—it’s a practical approach that drives tangible benefits and competitive advantages across various industries. Executives can draw inspiration from these successes to craft tailored waste elimination strategies that suit their organization’s unique needs and objectives.

To learn more principles and frameworks of Lean Management, Cost Reduction, and Waste Elimination, please check out the author’s business documents listed on Flevy here

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Want to Achieve Excellence in Process Improvement?

Gain the knowledge and develop the expertise to become an expert in Process Improvement. Our frameworks are based on the thought leadership of leading consulting firms, academics, and recognized subject matter experts. Click here for full details.

Process Improvement involves analyzing and improving existing business processes in the pursuit of optimized performance. The goals are typically to continuously reduce costs, minimize errors, eliminate waste, improve productivity, and streamline activities.

As we continue to deal with COVID-19 and its economic aftermath, most organizations will prioritize Business Process Improvement initiatives. This is true for a few reasons. First, Process Improvement is one of the most common and effective ways of reducing costs. As the global economy slows down, Cost Management will jump to the forefront of most corporate agendas.

Secondly, a downturn typically unveils ineffective and broken business processes. Organizations that once seemed agile and focused during periods of growth may become sluggish and inefficient when demand drops off.

Lastly, COVID-19 has expedited Digital Transformation for most organizations. One of the quickest and most impactful forms of Digital Transformation is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Thus, we have included numerous RPA frameworks within this Stream.

Learn about our Process Improvement Best Practice Frameworks here.

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About Allan Ung

Allan Ung is a management consultant at Operational Excellence Consulting, a consultancy that focuses on maximizing customer value and minimizing wastes through Lean Management. He is also a seller at Flevy. View his documents here: OEConsulting.

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