Wherever we go, we encounter services, processes and resulting products that include significant waste. Time is likely the biggest waste, destroying any chance of creating a valued customer experience by making consumers wait and wait and wait. Kaizen practice calls waste ‘Muda’, identifying six other types of waste beyond wait time that add cost and frustration without adding value.

In In Search of Innovative Problems, we identified the 10 Signposts of Innovation that flag areas where innovative problems reside. Waste falls under Signpost #10 (Things that are failing) and Signpost #4 (Things that are slow and large). Waste does not add value to processes and services, it merely slows them down by burdening them with steps that take up time but do not improve the final outcome. Studies show that 40–90% of most processes are non-value added waste, so waste is a huge time sink. By focusing on eliminating waste, you can drive dramatic changes in large chunks that result in transformative services and products.

There are many effective ways to identify waste, in fact identifying and eliminating waste is a discipline in itself. For processes, we’ve found the use of process mapping coupled with metrics focused on time and rework to be especially effective. Sometimes, simple observation will yield insight into where and how waste is occurring.

Companies like Theranos (see A Single Drop of Blood) and the DNA Medicine Institute (a Cambridge MA incubator that recently won the XPrize in the Nokia Sensing XChallenge for developing a handheld device that can run hundreds of lab tests in minutes using a single drop of blood) are attacking traditional processes, identifying and carving out massive waste and innovating new ways to accomplish what was previously considered impossible. Companies like 23andMe and Counsyl are heading in the same direction, moving the waste out of gene sequencing processes. They are not there quite yet but we expect that one day they will offer ‘instant’ DNA analysis for under $100.

© Brian Leitten & Bradley Strock 2015