The 9th Waste – Lost Learning

Author: Susannah Clarke

When we learn about our processes and what needs improving, does the everyday work simply get in the way of implementation?


A client and I had been discussing the ability of their people to apply the learning from their improvement work. They knew how to map their processes; develop an integrated flow chart; identify quality concerns; apply the 8 wastes (see my blog on ‘It’s waste Jim’ for further info), develop theories to eliminate them and test theories for improvement. With all this accumulated process knowledge, they should be all set to implement.

But when the day job also has to continue, is this always possible? Clearly, it depends on the organisation, but this particular client described to me all the things that were getting in the way, including:

  • Dealing with an ever increasing number of emails
  • Attending meetings
  • Preparing reports, particularly month-end dashboards, KPI reports etc
    Joining numerous conference calls
  • Attending to the daily demands of business operation

In other words, it is business as usual, and as my client said, ‘It results in the 9th Waste, Lost Learning’.

Their people don’t get the immediate opportunity to apply what they have learned about the processes and how they can be improved.

Retaining the Learning

Learning retention and understanding is highly dependent on how engaged we are in the learning process and the style of learning. The more interactive and participative the learning, the more we are likely to retain what we have learned.

The Cone of Learning and what Confucious had to say on the topic are good illustrations of this.


Additionally, learning can be a frivolous experience if it is not applied rapidly after the learning, and regularly – the more you use it the less you forget.

The Forgetting Curve, after Hermann Ebbinghaus, is a useful illustration of the rapid decline in what we remember over time when we don’t get the opportunity to practice and apply what we learned.

The Forgetting Curve


How do you overcome the challenge?

Do everything you can to make sure that you and your people are engaged as you understand the process – the more you get ‘to do’ the learning as part of the learning, the more you will remember.

Being clear and making space

The key to capturing process learning as part of your everyday work is to:

  • Maintain rigour in your approach; all descriptions, actions, and notes must be meaningful not only at the point of writing but in the future. For example, simply writing “problem here” in bold letters with a circle around it on a flowchart is no guarantee you’ll remember what problem you were referring to 6 months down the line!
  • Describe the issue. Think to yourself, if someone else in the business looked at this without you there, would they understand it? If not, try again.
  • Stick to the verb-noun discipline when documenting your processes. This may feel pedantic at times but it works! For example, a process step described as “Report” could mean generate the report, analyse the report or even delete the report! Clear, actionable descriptions are invaluable.

Don’t be a victim of the 9th Waste

Make sure you and/or your people get the opportunity to apply the learning as quickly as possible on your return to work because having 8 wastes to eliminate is absolutely sufficient challenge.