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Making Do – The Overlooked Waste?

July 22, 2023
‘Making-do’ as a waste refers to a situation where a task is started without all its required inputs, or we choose to continue to do a task when a required input ceases to be available.

The term ‘input’ refers not only to materials, but to all other items such as machinery, tools, personnel, external conditions, and instructions. Making-do is a common phenomenon, and deserves explicit attention. Why? Because it is frequently the parent of what we know as the ‘common wastes’. When you start to really see making-do, you’ll be in a better position to recognise the consequences, thus more inclined to act.

For the sake of explanation, let me give you a very simple example.

We deliver quite a bit of whiteboard training. (As best we can we avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’.) I walk up to the whiteboard early in the session and the black marker is a bit dry, it will run out during the session. What happens then? I hesitate, I go to my bag for a spare or I use a different colour. Two ‘common wastes’ just happened – the participants in the room are ‘waiting’ and my ‘motion’. The use of a different colour may give rise to a ‘defect’ (another common waste) as our whiteboard diagrams are colour specific to highlight certain points. And so on …In this example we note the consequences are far from dire or extreme and typical risks such as safety aren’t present. But frequently that will NOT be the case. Look at the picture of the ladder! If we stop and observe ‘make-do’ and assess the consequential waste and risks, then perhaps we need to address making-do.

We are part of a large project with Central Western NSW councils on reducing water distribution losses. As a simple ‘principles learning’ exercise early July with a group of operational people and frontline leaders we focussed on preparing to add a device into a water line – i.e. digging the hole to expose the pipe. What became very apparent very quickly was that if the hole didn’t meet certain standards, the person adding in the device (the ‘customer’, they were in the room with us – very handy!) had to ‘make-do’. The risk of a defect, taking longer to do the job due to motion and waiting, was there again. Our focus started with what does a ‘good hole’ look like, then went to what’s done to ‘get ready to dig?’ It was very apparent that whilst digging the hole was the task, if we didn’t define and apply getting ready beforehand, we increased the risk of ‘making do’ when it came to actually digging the hole.

This concept of ‘making do’ as a waste has come from the construction industry. (You can read more about it here in this 2004 article by Lauria Koskela.) I can see it in our own work and, now we’re aware of it, it is very present in service and manufacturing sites we experience. (For a short but deeper conceptual analysis check out this link. The relevance to ‘production’ starts about halfway down the abstract.)

If you have questions re any aspect of that above, please email Oscar (