“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”
-Shigeo Shingo

You rarely find the word “Lean” without “manufacturing” beside it. Lean’s origins are in the Toyota production system, but it’s grown far beyond that application. Lean is a methodology focused on increasing profits by reducing waste. While it began with manufacturing, industries from software development to dentistry have adapted it in bids to be more competitive.

Bottom line: just because you’re in an office, don’t be fooled. You’re surrounded by waste. Let’s talk about how:


No fleet of trucks doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for this one. From getting your paper delivered (how much does that cost and could someone pick it up on the way to work?) to the mail cart, transportation waste is everywhere.

How far are people travelling to meetings and getting stuck in traffic on your dime? How many of those meetings could be video conferences, instead? Unless face to face is critical, you can do everything remotely (even sign).


Just because you’re not dealing with warehouses of widgets doesn’t mean you don’t have inventory waste. Inventory is broader than manufactured items to sell. It’s the accumulation of anything that we produce, whether goods or services.

Messy DeskHow many unfinished projects have piled up in your inbox and in your brain? They’re slowly draining your energy the longer they’re not finalized. Finishing the projects you start will keep your focus sharp and your desk efficient.

Email is a type of inventory. How many are in your inbox, either opened or no? Many of the most efficient people keep their inboxes trimmed to one page or less.


Defects are pinholes in a boat, slowly letting the water in to sink the profitability. It’s also the frustrating waste because it’s jarringly avoidable.

A simple typo or spreadsheet formula error in an important document can cost money, destabilize client relationships, and do long term damage to your reputation. The longer a defect goes unnoticed, the more damage it tends to do.

To fight defects, don’t succumb to the temptation of not editing. A second pair of eyes costs money, but can catch the errors likely to cost you much more.


I saved the worst for last. Unused talent is everywhere in offices. Every member of your team has skills and ways to contribute that didn’t come out in their interview. It’s up to management to create a culture where people feel valued enough to step up and use their talents to the fullest.

If staff don’t feel like their ideas matter, they’ll bite their tongues, feel unheard, and not come to you about the inefficiencies that are bugging them. Meanwhile, you’ll bring in expensive consultants to give you the same ideas.

Those ideas will flounder in implementation because your team won’t buy into them, and you’ll end up just as inefficient, thousands of dollars poorer, and downright demoralized.

So listen to your team. Take their ideas seriously. It will save you money.