4 Steps to Improving Processes By Reducing Waste

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In the process improvement world, waste is the enemy. If you remove it, odds are you will improve the results of your process. That could mean something goes faster, consumption is reduced, errors are prevented, and so forth. At a high level, anyone can get started improving processes just by reducing waste. I’ll break it down into four easy to follow steps and relate it to my own experience reducing water consumption to help California deal with our drought:

  1. Maintaining Awareness
  2. Documenting Current State
  3. Developing a Future State
  4. Analyzing the Results


The first step is to identify what is waste and be aware of it so you can spot it. In California, we are dealing with a record setting drought. State mandates have come down asking every household to reduce water consumption by 36%. I wanted to do my part and see how much water I could save, using 36% as my goal. For me, excessive water use is the waste. Obviously, I need water to live and my house needs water to maintain weekly routines like landscaping, laundry, and dishes. The challenge would be to analyze where I use water and come up with a plan to reduce how much I consume.


The first step in reducing waste is to understand the current situation or process. In process improvement, this is usually referred to as the current state. Most people assume a flowchart is the easiest way to document your current state, and while that may be true, there are other ways you can do this. As Scott Masich explains in a recent post, Capital Cost Avoidance: Thinking Creatively Before You Spend, a floor plan can also be used to document your current state. For me, I used a mind map. My objective was to brainstorm the possible ways I consume water at home. A mind map made it easy for me to visualize my thoughts in real time. It will also serve as the base for my future state map down the road.



Now that I have my current state mapped, it’s time to develop a plan to attack it. I used the same mind map used earlier, and expanded on it by adding steps I could take to help reduce water waste.


Once completed, it was time to put the plan in action and follow my future state plan. This is when awareness really comes into play. I realized I had developed years of bad habits and as they say, old habits die hard. The first few weeks, I caught myself leaving the water on when I was washing hands or brushing my teeth, but since I was making an effort to be aware of my water usage, I caught myself and eventually self-corrected over the next few weeks. I have to admit, I was excited to get my next water bill to see if my plan paid off.


I moved into my house in August of 2014. I implemented my process improvement plan in June of 2015. Immediately my usage dropped from 10 Hundred Cubic Feet (HCF, 1 HCF = 748 gallons) to 5 HCF. I have been able to maintain an average of 6 HCF over the past 4 months compared to 10.5 HCF over the same time a year earlier. By continuing to be aware of my water consumption and following the guidelines in my future state plan, I exceeded my goal of 36% and lowered my water consumption by 42.8%.

Water_Consumption_ChartThe chart above makes it easy to see how I am saving water this year and also compared to the prior year. Reducing waste can be as easy as this if you follow these four simple steps!

About the Author As Director of Sales Operations at SmartDraw, Steve Peterson helps our customers use SmartDraw to communicate more effectively with visuals. At home, he spends most of his free time entertaining his 4 year old daughter. A Minnesota native, he is an avid sports fan, rooting for his Alma mater, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.