7 Wastes of Change Management

In manufacturing and software, "waste" is considered to be a bad thing. But what about change management? Is something that is more unpredictable and uncertain affected by the same types of waste?
September 29, 2014
Jason is the author of Lean Change Management and founder of the Lean Change Management Association and Spark the Change Toronto
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“But I said we should do this change months ago!! Why don’t you people listen to me?”

You may have heard this while working as part of a change, or you may have thought it yourself. I used to get frustrated when I *knew* a change was the right one to do but no one else did until someone else brought up the same idea…months later. Sometimes I still do, but I think since I’m older now I expect this to happen, so I don’t worry about it as much as I used to.

Sometimes it simply isn’t the right time for a change. If you’re deeply attached to feeling it is the right time, you might feel it’s wasteful to work on something else because other people don’t feel it’s the right thing to do.

Waste is a tangible problem in manufacturing. If you’re familiar with the 7 wastes of manufacturing, it’s pretty easy to see the impact of waste. It’s also fairly easy to measure the financial impact of waste when it comes to physical goods.

So what about software? Mary and Tom Poppendieck related the 7 wastes of lean (or 7 wastes of manufacturing) to the 7 wastes of software development. Seeing the impact of those wastes are less tangible when compared to manufacturing. Take inventory for example. You can see stacks of inventory in a factory. You can’t really see the impact of supporting multiple branches of code due to un-finished features.

Comparatively speaking of course.

You can visualize that problem with big visible information radiators or even by using big TVs showing the output of code analysis tools, but generally speaking, the impact of seeing a big pile of inventory collecting dust is a much more powerful visual that can provoke action.

What about change management? Is there a concept of waste in change management? All of the work in change management is in our brains!


Manufacturing: The work is physical, it can be counted and put on a balance sheet.

Software: The work is partially “physical” (IE: releasable software, hardware needed to run the software etc) and partially in our brains (IE: technical debt. Yes, you could argue that’s physical as well but generally speaking it’s a mis-understood metaphor that can be difficult for developers to verbalize into something meaningful that business people understand)

Change: The work is all in our heads…well, except for that fancy Sharepoint site that has a diagram of cool looking pillars that no one is looking at!

Are there equivalent wastes in change management? If so, can we do something about them? Check out this Slideshare to find out!


  1. Tom Henricksen

    “Waiting is good!” is so simple but, we all have seemed to learn the trait of “looking busy.” This reminds me of reading Eli Goldratt’s “The Goal” and gaining a lot of insight into the lean manufacturing world and how it relates to software. Excellent article, I will check out the book.

    • Jason Little

      Thanks for the comment Tom. Waiting has become a lost art, there’s such a strong desire to get results NOW I think we change agents often forget that incremental change over time is about the best thing that can happen.

      • Paul Boos

        Systems Thinking teaches you that some effects will be delayed and not have immediate results, so understanding what may have a wait period and what doesn’t is important.

        • Jason Little

          Agreed. The challenge I see is that execs couldn’t care less about what systems thinking says. Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t, but their reality is getting results and that can create immense pressure on the change team.


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