Office Wastes

Lean Office Wastes

It can be difficult to interpret the engineering-derived Lean Wastes or the customer service-derived Service Wastes in an office context.   In his book The Lean Toolbox for Service Systems, John Bicheno lists fourteen Office Wastes.

Sorting & searching

Looking for documents or computer files which have been misfiled or misplaced.

Inappropriate measurement

You get what you measure, so measuring anything which does not directly lead to customer-perceived added value is a waste.  Measurements will also waste the time spent in collecting them.


Parkinson’s Law states that ‘Work will expand to fill the time available for its completion’.  Worse than the inefficient use of time, however, is the risk that underutilised staff may create non-value added actions to be performed by others who are already fully burdened with value-adding work.


Overload will always result in delay in completion of added value work.

Inappropriate prioritising

Work can be categorised by its importance and its urgency.  Value added work is always important, but a worker may feel pressure to complete unimportant (non-value adding) but urgent work at the expense of important non-urgent work which may as a consequence become urgent.  Management is often the source of these inappropriate priorities.


Work may be slowed by emails, excessive socialising, intrusive supervision and noise.  Setting aside ‘quiet time’ may help to reduce these.

Inappropriate frequency

This is where meetings, measurements or reports are performed more frequently than is desirable for a satisfactory flow of work.

Start-up and end-off

This is where work doesn’t get up to speed at the start of a day or after a break, or where it winds down too early.

Mistakes, errors, lack of appropriate knowledge

All will result in a need for help from others and rework.  All indicate shortcomings in the system of work being operated.

Misunderstanding and communication errors

These errors may be the root cause of many other wastes.  Lack of clarity at any point from first customer contact to delivery can give rise to errors.


It is important that the whole of a process is considered.  ‘Optimisation’ of a small part may be deleterious to the efficiency of the system as a whole.


Not customers in a queue, but office staff waiting for decisions or information.

Inappropriate presence

The waste of attending meetings where no productive purpose is served by attending.  Meetings should be small and focused, not long and general.

Inappropriate trade-offs

At the time of designing a process, too little attention is given to trade-offs between development speed, service cost, service performance and development cost.  Once the process is established, it is difficult to conceive of any other way of doing it.