The 8 Forms of Lean Waste, Applied to Business: Non-Utilized Talent

young businesswoman looking frustratedly at her laptop

The whole of a business suffers when employees aren't given a chance to use their full scope of ability.                                                             

Carroll Elger|
December 6, 2018

In manufacturing, “lean manufacturing” or simply “lean” has become a dominant management philosophy, deciding much of how the manufacturing component of the supply chain is handled to maximize efficiency of resources. Lean focuses on minimizing waste by identifying activities that add value and separating them from those that don’t, emphasizing the elimination of those that don’t.

Due to lean’s success in the manufacturing industry, managers in other industries began to adapt lean to their work, including business managers. Lean management has become a staple of some contemporary offices, modified to fit the white-collar workplace.


A key tenet of lean is the understanding of the “8 Forms of Waste”. Waste, in this context, is defined by as, “any step or action in a process that is not required to complete a process (called “Non Value-Adding”) successfully.”


Ideawake has found that our clients often set innovation challenges for their stakeholders that involve trying to reduce one or more forms of waste. We believe this is an excellent goal to have when using Ideawake so we’re producing this series of posts covering each individual waste and how Ideawake’s innovation management software could potentially be used to address them. The 8 types of waste are as follows:


  1. Defects
  2. Overproduction
  3. Waiting
  4. Non-utilized Talent
  5. Transportation
  6. Inventory
  7. Motion
  8. Extra-processing

These are commonly abbreviated with the acronym DOWNTIME.


Non-Utilized Talent

The most valuable resource in any organization is the employees. The lean waste of non-utilized talent is exactly as it sounds; not effectively, or at all, utilizing the valuable resource that is your employees. This creates waste by leaving value on the table that your employees could bring through skills or talents that haven’t been recognized.


In manufacturing non-utilized talent can be prevalent at multiple levels of the organization. At the very bottom are workers who aren’t being properly evaluated. A lower level employee may be able to be flexible between more than one job, or could have skills that aren’t directly applicable to the manufacturing process but would provide new context to view operations with. Keeping an employee with multiple skills in one position may be passing up opportunities to expand their role and involvement in the plant. At management levels of manufacturing, managers may be under-utilized because they have insight into potential process improvements that are missed by oversight engineers, but only have agency to speak on worker management.


In business, non-utilized talent wastes are more subtle, and therefore more difficult to spot and diagnose, but often carry far more value if eliminated. Given that most positions in business require more soft skills than manufacturing and are more varied than on the assembly line, there is great potential for worker skills to go unnoticed or underutilized. Leaders must have adequate understanding of their workers’ backgrounds and current skills, and an organization must have a system in place that allows for this type of information to be known and acted upon. Here are some ways that employees in business enterprises could be under-utilized:


  • Applicable skills from previous roles aren’t recognized/used
  • Employees who have shown a growth mindset aren’t being given the resources to develop new, higher-level skills
  • Hiring practices in the enterprise aren’t aligned so new talent in the organization is being placed or shifted most effectively
  • Employees aren’t being prompted by leadership to rethink their position and how it aligns with the trends of the industry as they see them
  • Training opportunities aren’t available to employees showing aptitude


With idea management software like Ideawake, there are two ways to address these issues in a business environment. First, in the way idea management software can be used to address other forms of waste, companies can post challenge statements directly asking for solutions to already-identified instances of non-utilized talent. Second, Ideawake can be used as a direct answer to non-utilized talent. Employees with analytical abilities beyond their position are able to use those abilities to submit ideas for challenges in the business, collaborate to help develop the ideas of others, and potentially even take on new responsibilities in developing their idea to be implemented in the business. Starting an innovation program with Ideawake could potentially solve your non-utilized talent issue after just a few strategy-aligned challenges. If you’re interested in learning more about leadership and innovation, and how Ideawake is able to drive corporate innovation that reduces waste, click here to book a demo today.


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