In lean product development, the top priorities are maximising the production of customer value and minimizing waste.

The battle against waste is constant and it’s all too easy to have some of the work you do every day with your team be wasteful without ever realising it. But by training yourself to listen for the tell tale phrases people use, you can pinpoint situations where waste is occurring - even when others aren’t even noticing it at all.

Challenge: These stories all come from my own true experiences. Keep track of how many of these you have encountered in your own organisation. I’d love for you to share your count with me (and to share any others similar stories I’ve missed). My Twitter handle is at the bottom. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Company waste

  1. Waste from overambitiousness

“This product is going to be totally mega successful. We’ll need a white label version on day 1 so we can start reselling it. We’ll need our own server farm full of the largest machines you can find. We’ll need 24/7 support too and a full HR and finance team to manage operations immediately. Oh, and let’s get that really big office to accommodate all our future people too.”

How to fix it: Build minimum viable products.

  1. Waste from building the wrong product

“I spent the last two years of my life building this. And now you are telling me that it’s not actually what the customer wanted?”

How to avoid it: Fail fast, fail often. Engage in market research, UX research and Lean Product Validation.

  1. Analysis paralysis (over-processing waste)

“We shouldn’t start this project until we have a more informed discussion about this. Can we get the marketing team to redo the metrics for the last month and prepare a presentation to management first?”

How to fix it: Accept failure as learning. Build a culture of confident decision making. Wrong decisions are better than no decisions.

Management waste

  1. Too many signoffs

“We completed the prototype. Now we have to get signoff from the stakeholders. Can you mail the 27 different people need to approve this before we can get it into production.”

How to fix it: Once you hand over responsibility, you hand over responsibility. The team needs to be trusted to deliver the solution. If the project isn’t as successful as you hope, consider improving the skill and experience balance for the next project.

Product waste

  1. Building features in the wrong order

Potential customer: “Yes, that feature is really neat. But it’s not going to make me switch to using your product instead of the one I’m currently using. What I *really* needed was this other feature you have planned for next year”.

How to fix it: UX research and Lean Product Validation.

  1. Waste from poor quality

“Our customer cancelled their plan. They found a bug when connecting to the cloud version of the product. They contacted support, who escalated it to L2 support, who had the server admin confirm there were no issues with the server. He then got on to the QA team who validated the issue. We took the development team off their current work and got them to complete a hotfix. It then took them a day to get back into what they were doing. Oh, and the customer posted on Twitter about how slow the support team was, so the marketing team had to do damage control.”

How to fix it: Fix bugs before moving onto new features.

  1. Customers not benefitting from completed work

“Great work on the sprint guys - the feature looks awesome. The marketing team are creating the assets needed to promote it and we’ll press the button as soon as they are done.”

How to fix it: Coordinate and include all areas of the company in project planning.

Team waste

  1. Internal feature scope creep

“We know the customer wants this feature first. But I believe it has to work like this to be really useful. And this change will only take an hour to implement. I’m sure.”

How to fix it: Nothing ever takes an hour to implement. Trust your customer feedback, prevent scope creep from your own team.

  1. Waste of coordination

“It’s in the spec, but I wasn’t in the kickoff meeting, and no-one told me it had moved to v1.1”

How to fix it: Centralise all project communication. Train everyone about where the information is, and what make one person responsible for maintaining it (and the communication around it).

  1. Waste due to distributed teams

“I can’t wait to get into the same room together. There are 100 small things we could fix so quickly - it’s just so hard to get those small things done when we are spread out in different countries.”

How to fix it: Keep scrum teams co-located. If you work in a distributed fashion by necessity, ensure travel is frequent, easy to set up and encourage it in your team.

  1. Work overloading

“I would have gotten it finished, but I had two project kickoff meetings, a design review meeting, a project postmortem and a nasty bugfix given to me at short notice. Oh, and my monthly HR feedback form to compile. I’m pretty sure it said something about too many projects and meetings to get my actual work done.”

How to fix: Make sure every person is focused on two things max - their current project, and their next project. Treat interruptions with disdain.

  1. Work underloading

“I finished my feature. What should I do now?”

How to fix it: Ensure people know what they are responsible for next before they finish their current work (but only the next one most important thing).

  1. Talent waste

“Peter was doing that…but he was blocked and I could have done it while he was working on other stuff.”

How to fix it: Daily standups for communication and review of blockers. Building a positive, collaborative team environment where people volunteer and help each other out when needed.

  1. Team imbalances

“The QA team have dealt with everything in the pipeline, and the next feature wont be ready for testing for a week. ”

How to fix it: Build individuals with a range of skills - not mono-skilled team members. If a team member comes free, get them working on other areas of responsibility and ensure they are mentored if needed. Add/remove resources from teams to make sure it has all the skills it needs in a balanced fashion.

Automation waste

  1. Waste of computing cycles

“It’s compiling. I’ll just go get a coffee and wait for it”.

How to fix it: Identify and invest time in eliminating situations where people are waiting for computers to do things. Work out the hourly cost of your production team. Then compare it to the cost of fixing the problem with faster hardware. It tends to be a fairly quick decision most of the time.

  1. Automate information distribution

“Every day I collate the sales numbers and email them to the management team”

How to fix it:

  1. Find out if anyone ever reads them.
  2. Automate them only if they are being read.

  3. Eliminate the scope for human error

“When the customer sends a message to us with the refund box checked, I have to add the three CC’s to higher management, forward it to accounts and select the reply template from our templates list before actually replying to the customer. Oh, and if I forget one bit, I have to do it all over again”.

How to fix it: If you can’t automate it, at least simplify it.

Personal productivity waste

  1. Waste of focus (context shifting waste)

“I’m working on 4 features right now. Oh, and three bugs. And I’ll have them all ready by midnight. Wait. Crap. I’ve included the wrong code in this build. Make that 2am.”

How to fix it: Champion teamwork over heroics. Minimise context switching costs with better project planning and guidelines for communication.

  1. Waste of knowledge

“James knew our systems inside out. It’s a pity we let him go. How could we have known his mother was sick? Now it’ll cost $25k to find someone that good again, and a year till that new person has the same knowledge.”

How to fix it: Value and teach your team. Give them responsibility and ownership. Listen.

  1. Demotivational waste

“I got the release out on time and the launch went perfectly - you’d think Jim would at least say thanks.”

How to fix it: Appreciate good work by your team.

  1. Not reflecting on waste

“We’ve always done it that way”

How to fix it: Lean values must be adopted by the entire organisation, and management must be confident in the team’s ability to identify and eliminate waste in their own processes.


All rubbish puns aside, I’d love to hear how many of these you’ve encountered in your own organisation. Catch me at dave_kearney on Twitter or on Linked In. In the mean time, I’ve just opened a beer. Which means there is just one more point:

  1. Never waste beer :)