Last But Not Least: Defects – the Seventh Waste

Note:  This blog – the last installment in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda” as they relate to court document management – deals with the “D” in TIM WOOD: Defects.

Calling “Defects” a waste seems sort of like calling “trash” garbage: Of course Defects are a waste.  Nevertheless, in calling out Defects as one of the Seven Wastes in setting forth the Toyota Production System’s principle of management responsibility for Muda (the elimination of waste), Taiichi Ohno went way past the obvious.

First, the cost of defects vastly exceeds even the most extravagant common sense estimates.  Second, defects are not “inevitable”.  They have root causes, which are, to a great extent, common.  Third, they have the potential to be existential: That is, they can result in the failure of the enterprise.

In the manufacturing context that Ohno was directly addressing, “defects” generally referred to parts that do not meet specifications.  The most obvious waste results from the labor and materials required for rework.   Still obviously, although less directly, lost chronological time cannot be recovered.  Likewise, the cost of finding the defects can range from minimal (if identified at source) to enormous (if not discovered until the product is in use).[ii]  Too extreme?  Consider the cost of a recall of all vehicles due to a defective $.05 bolt. In courts, consider the cost of setting aside convictions as the result of a constitutionally defective document chain of custody.

When there is the prospect of catastrophic failure due to defects, all kinds of costs go into prevention, quality control and so forth.  Parachutes that open 99.9% of the time are really not acceptable.  This principle has major affects on court operations.  Almost every court has some very labor-intensive processes that came into being because sometime in the past something was missed; and to prevent the possibility of it ever happening again, multiple re-checks have been implemented.

While defects in the service sector (including of course, court operations) are very different from defects in the manufacturing world, they are no less real.   Muda – the elimination of waste – requires not just identifying and correcting defects early, but  taking proactive steps to prevent them in the first place.

Defects in court operations take all kinds of form.  Misfiled documents.  Matters incorrectly calendared, or not calendared.   Judgments and other documents incorrectly (or not at all) logged into Registers of Action and/or Judgment Dockets.  And so on.

I particularly love it (NOT!) when I hear or read that someone advocates “saving money by eliminating mistakes”, because all too often that is a euphemism for “we’ll tell people to be more careful, which won’t cost us anything”.  The truth is, defects occur for pretty common reasons.   Each of the other six Wastes provide fertile ground for producing defects.  Beyond that, non-standard operating procedures constitute one of the most common causes for defects.   Personnel untrained in a particular process (as in someone filling in for the regular clerk); temporal discontinuity (a process requires multiple documents; they arrive at different times in different places); and emphasis on quantity (speed) rather than quality and accuracy are some of the most common.

In subsequent posts we will examine how Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with configurable workflow (and the analysis that goes with it) can directly attack the root causes of Defects, as well as the other Wastes (each of which helps produce Defects).  For now, consider Defects to be a potential “low-hanging fruit” for some serious cost savings when migrating to ECM.

[ii] A standard formula you often see is: Cost “X” if discovered at the time of occurrence; X times ten if not discovered until the next step in the process (and more for each subsequent step); X times one hundred if not discovered until the final product is assembled and ready to deliver; and X time one thousand (or unlimited) if the defect is not discovered until the product is in use by the end user.

Another formula, attributed to Mary and Tom Poppendieck (, is: WASTE=(IMPACT OF DEFECT) X (TIME DEFECT LIES UNDETECTED)

One response to “Last But Not Least: Defects – the Seventh Waste

  1. Pingback: Pssst…. | Order in the Court

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