Most of the Lean body of knowledge is directly applicable to learning experience development. However, some parts of it do not transfer without a change in thinking because LX product development is different from manufacturing. Team members can help identify waste when they know the expectation. This section is intended to help see what may be unseen without the Lean mental filters engaged.

Most learning experience development involved worker information flows and processes are invisible to someone walking around the gemba, or work place. Lean emphasizes visual management. This can help us see waste that typically remains unaddressed in the unseen flows and processes.

Waste means anything—​time, costs, work—​that adds no value in the eyes of the customer.

Lean typically identifies the following types of waste:

Waiting, Delay, Queue Time waste.

This includes people waiting for anyone or anything. Examples include waiting for available resources like SMEs, internal process steps, data and responses from people. Waiting for SMEs is waste. Although not often thought of as waste by knowledge workers, WIP inventory waiting to be worked on is also waster. Teach teams to see All queue time as delay, meaning waste. Improvements seek the causes. Track queues on your Kanban board to visualize it so you can reduce it. A queue distinguishes work that is eligible to be pulled from work that is still in process. Team members waiting for information, instructions and tools all are waste too. Waiting for the hiring process of team members to finish is delay waste that may cause an imbalance between supply and demand.

Visual boards and 15 minute daily standup synchronization meetings also help reduce waiting for instructions delay waste in large teams where the lead also has to handle onerous reporting requirements.

Over processing waste.

Over processing means delivering more quality than the customer wants or will pay for. For eLearning that uses 3D environments or avatars, it is easy for developers to spend too much time on 3D models making the models higher fidelity than the learning objectives call for. In Agile, teams use what they call the "definition of done" for each process step to help avoid over processing waste, sometimes called "gold plating". The done definition also helps with quickly identifying abnormal conditions. instructional/LX designers and developers can sometimes add unnecessary detail in their content. Some organizations have many approvals. Some teams, when unable to go 100% Lean-Agile, inappropriately assign highly skilled people to fill out the many project status reports. Some learning experience development teams are still trying to use older technologies, such as Flash rather than HTML5 and JavaScript which cause waste. Some organizations include far too many transactions where time and effort are spent on non-value added steps which are necessary to get the needed tasks done. Although this is required waste at some levels, higher leadership can reduce or remove these obstacles to reduce waste.

Transport / Handoffs waste

Transportation waste is moving process inputs, WIP, or outputs by any means, including electronically. Although we first think poor flow due to facility layout only applies to manufacturing, in some organizations team members are located in their functional groups rather than in a cross-functional team location. Walking around may not seem like much, but when repeated often it adds up. Walking across the room or down the hall to a SME’s or team mate’s cubicle instead of having them next to you is movement waste. Another example is to hold the daily standup meeting in the work area (gemba), in front of the visual board rather than in a conference room, to avoid labor waste in coordinating, finding and walking to conference rooms. Sending emails to too many people can slow them down unnecessarily and is waste. When team members handoff work to each other, problems in communication are waste that the Kanban can help reduce.

Movement waste.

Any motion not creating value is motion waste. If team members have to go elsewhere for needed information, this is waste. With multimedia components, another example is not having a photography or video shot list and having to travel back to the system or site to take more pictures or video is movement waste. When a SME knows where a piece of information is, but instead leaves it to the learning experience development team to dig through large volumes of data instead, this is movement waste.

Inventory waste

Storage of any type of work item, information or document is inventory. Some inventory is necessary. For example, if the team has to travel to a distant site to gather photos, then it is not uncommon for the photographer to shoot many more images than end up being used. However, sorting through hundreds of images creates delay which is waste. Development team members who are new to Kanban often move 10-50 work items into their WIP column. It takes coaching to help them see that partially completed work is inventory. Pull reduces this waste. Large batch sizes increase WIP and WIP delays are waste. Exceeding WIP limits, that are designed to prevent large batches, creates delay and waste. Creating another prototype after getting positive customer feedback creates waste. Keeping months or years of old data may be required, but if not organized well the volume of files can increase time team members need to find the version they need. Lean emphasizes one-piece flow, or completing one thing before starting another to reduce inventory waste. Pulling work items rather than pushing them to the next step and having them pile up in large queues is a way to avoid inventory waste.

Defect demand waste.

Defect demand is sometimes called rework. Defect demand waste is time wasted fixing a deficiency that results in, or could result in, improper operation of the courseware, impaired learner performance, or cause rework to an existing component of the courseware. Value demand is what customers are willing to pay for. Defect demand is not something customers want to pay for. * Rework time can be measured to see how much we pay to create and then pay again to fix the courseware. Iteration demos help us get customer feedback earlier so we do not waste resources making things they do not want. Getting conflicting or erroneous information from research or SMEs is defect demand waste. Poor testing of courseware functionality and verification of its content is defect demand waste. Incorrect annotations and information to comply with accessibility requirements, such as Section 508 in U.S., cause rework waste. Annotating for accessibility too early, such as before media are created, can also create rework waste. Some buyers and producers really like so-called big up-front plans with every detail planned out. These can be the source of waste because we know the least at the beginning. When applying Lean-Agile, we have been able to convince customers and internal management that instead of planning down to every project task on the Gantt schedule, we only plan down to the iteration on the Gantt schedule, leaving some flexibility in distributed planning in later iterations as we learn more. This helps avoid much replanning later, which is rework waste.

Over production waste

Over production waste is making more than the downstream customer immediately requires. Without a daily standup, a team member in an upstream process step may still push work items without regard to the downstream WIP limits and process needs. Sending emails to everyone rather than just to the selective few who need it creates over production waste for all the recipients. This can be a hard habit to change. Having to create content for storyboarding and then again inside the courseware authoring tool creates over production waste as redundant tasks.

Unevenness waste

Imbalances in supply and demand are unevenness waste. The goal is smooth flow instead. Because spikes of demand that are higher than team capacity end up overburdening the process or series of processes, this is waste. If the customer asks for five courses at once rather than spreading them out, this can be unevenness waste. It may also be necessary waste if you cannot convince them to schedule the courseware differently. In systems thinking, having a stock or a reserve helps reduce unevenness. Rather than aiming for 100% staff utilization as traditional approaches have, instead aim to use 85%-90% of your staff capacity to have some reserve capacity for uneven demand. This is also like having savings in your personal finances. Leaders may have to buffer the teams from the customer or from management who may want to force more work through the courseware production system than it can handle. Another solution is to bring on more people. Another way to smooth the flow is to divide the work into smaller increments. For example, rather than a lesson, focus on learning objectives.

Utilization and Context Switching waste

Context Switching is time spent switching between jobs (learning curve, or memory reload). Reduce this waste by reducing interruptions for people developing the courseware during an iteration. Establish WIP limits to reduce this waste. Utilization waste also includes not effectively using the team’s or supplier’s collective talents, skills and knowledge.

Limited IT resources waste

Christoph Bauch suggested this new waste type.[1] For example, if the old courseware was created in Power Point, and now needs conversion to an online tool or to XML or JSON data formatting, the reformatting, conversions or re-entering data is waste.

Lack of system discipline waste

Bauch also suggested this new waste type.[1] An example of this would be bringing team members into the team who do not have Lean-Agile experience without providing some common leveling training. Another example might be a team not clearly specifying the iteration goal. If you use Scrum roles but don’t make them clear to the team, then this is another example of Bauch’s system discipline waste. Lean-Agile recommends setting up clear team ground rules which helps prevent Bauch’s system discipline waste.

All of these types of waste can hurt your organization, especially during fixed price contracts. The first step is awareness of what may have been unseen. Next comes paying attention and seeing these types of waste. And finally, the team looks for ways to reduce these wastes.

Mountain Goat Software has a blog that talks about avoiding the waste of "imaginary precision in estimation." We don’t remember where we found this example, it may have been from Mountain Goat Software. Someone created a great example of this type of waste using golf. It is important to estimate a putt in inches, but golfers don’t typically spend time estimating if their next drive will be 210 yards or 210 yards and 4 inches. You may have to reinforce this in some organizations. It is okay to get less precise as a work item gets larger.


1. For two new waste types, see Lean Product Development: Making waste transparent, by Christoph Bauch Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2004
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