This is Part 1 of a series on Lean HR - that is, the application of Lean Principles to the Human Resources. In Part 1, I Introduce the concept of value and waste and showed several examples of wastes present in human resources processes. In Part 2, I introduced a fictional company called Abilla and Sons and explain the concept of a Lean Consumption Map. In Part 3, I introduce the concept of a Current and Future State Map and how reducing process steps will undoubtedly help the firm save time, money, and overall effort.

While the application of Lean has proliferated almost every business function and industry, human resources is one where its penetration is still in its infancy. Yet, the challenges in Human Resources are exactly the problems for which Lean was designed to improve. Indeed, Human Resources departments have frustratingly come to accept the countless loops in scheduling, the inordinate waiting time in screening candidates, and the subjective and unstandardized nature of candidate interviewing – as a cost of doing business. Must this continue to be the case? It doesn’t have to – and, shouldn’t.

Click to Tweet This: The concepts of Lean Management provide a powerful set of principles that can help both job provider and job seeker

While some companies believe that this cost of doing business is inevitable, there is a growing number of companies that understand that streamlining their people operations – making it easier for job candidates to work with them – is actually leading to substantial decreases in time spent on hiring tasks, lower internal and external recruiting costs, better quality of hiring, and higher candidate satisfaction scores. Indeed, they are finding that scheduling loops and waiting time need not be the norm. As a result, these innovative organizations can focus their efforts on truly sourcing, hiring, and retaining their talent, rather than on activities that distract them from their mission of finding and hiring the best persons for their organization.

The operative word here is “process" and that’s precisely where most organizations fail to meet the needs of candidates and where human resource departments – and the lines of businesses they support – fall short of their mission of sourcing, screening, finding, and hiring the best talent for their organizations.

The Principles of Lean Management

Lean is the term to describe the Toyota Production System. John Krafcik coined the term Lean when he observed that Toyota happened to do “everything with half of everything??? – in other words: half the money, half the people, half the inventory, half the space – yet with very high quality. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was really describing the Toyota Production System, Toyota’s famous management system. Since then, the term Lean has stuck and its methods are now being applied in every function, industry, and vertical. The concepts of Lean Management provide a powerful set of principles that can help both job provider and job seeker. One concept from Lean Management is especially relevant for our discussion: Value and Waste. Value, here defined, is from the perspective of the customer – that is, what the customer considers value. In the business of people operations, the job candidate is unequivocally the ultimate customer. Yet, there are internal customers too. For example, the Recruiter’s customers can include the Hiring Manager as well as the Candidate. Consider the following statement as an approximation for what the average job candidate might consider value in the context of their interaction with a potential employer:

  • Candidate’s Goal: The candidate’s goal is to receive and accept a job offer that meets his or her career, compensation, and quality of life expectations with the greatest efficiency and least amount of pain. As we shall see, the Hiring Company’s goal is not that different from the candidate’s goal. In fact, the alignment is quite instructive – as we shall learn later – on how to improve the experience for both parties.
  • Hiring Company Goal: The hiring company’s goal is to source the best talent for their company, screen, and offer a position to a candidate that meets its talent and compensation expectations with the greatest efficiency and least amount of pain. As you can see, both the job seeker and the job provider are aligned at least on one point: Greatest Efficiency and Least Amount of Pain.

Greatest Efficiency and Least Amount of Pain

If “Value??? is best described as the goal statements above, then its opposite is what is formally termed in Lean Management as Waste. For our purposes, we can equate “Pain??? as stated in the candidate and employer goal statements synonymous with Waste. Lean Management has defined 2 types of Waste:

  1. Waste we can eliminate: These are process steps, information and material flow that do not add any value to the customer. And, these can be eliminated.
  2. Necessary Waste: These are process steps, information and material flow that do not add any value to the customer but, given the state of the business, is not feasible to eliminate them yet.

With that as background, let’s now define the forms of wastes. Technically, Lean Management has formally defined 7 types of Waste. It will be instructive for us to highlight specific Waste in the context of recruiting:

Form of Waste

Definition and Example


In manufacturing, physical goods are conveyed or transported and any transportation that doesn’t move the product closer to the customer is considered waste. In a service context, the unit of interest that is being transported is information. So, the waste of transportation in recruiting include any information exchange that doesn’t move the hiring process forward.


The concept of inventory outside of manufacturing means that there’s more of that unit of interest than resources to handle it. For example, in manufacturing, there might be more parts for assembly than is needed. The extra parts represents waste in terms of cash and also physical space. In a service context – and, especially recruiting – the concept of inventory can mean that there’s more candidates than there are internal human resources personnel to evaluate them all.


Motion is any physical movement that adds no value. From the perspective of a job candidate, this may mean having to complete form elements in a job application that the hiring company actually doesn’t even use. Further downstream in the recruiting process, motion could be the mindless scheduling loops between the job candidate and the hiring company. OR the candidate interviewing with too many interviewers.


It’s not difficult to see how waiting is a form of waste. Within the context of recruiting, any amount of waiting for a work cycle to be completed is considered a form of waste.


Processing is required for most business processes. Overprocessing, however, is waste when processing goes beyond the value required by the customer. Indeed, most job candidates wouldn’t mind receiving a job offer via email rather than an overnighted job offer letter through FedEx Overnight. The extra mile is nice, but is more than needful. Overkill would be an appropriate synonym for Overprocessing. Another example is having too many people interview one candidate. Another example: ideally, companies should have established targeted competencies and skills for each position and asking questions related to those competencies and skills. Often times, interviewers asks the same question over and over again.


Overproduction in a service environment involves providing services that: (a) the customer does not need or value, (b) is redundant or unnecessary, or (c) customers could perform for themselves with the right tools and resources. An example is when a company interviews too many people for one role. They should target 3 to 4 top candidates per open role. Producing more than that is over producing.


Defects are errors, plain and simple. Errors are the mother of all waste and are the cause of other forms of waste mentioned here, such as handoffs and manual data handling. All work related to errors is waste – and there’s a lot of it.

In part 2 of this series on how to apply Lean to Human Resources, we’ll go through the exact steps a typical company undergoes to bring in outside talent. In that article, I will introduce a fictional company and walk through the process of identifying value and waste in their recruiting process. I will also introduce the concept of Consumption Maps and show how creating a Lean Human Resources Consumption Map can help you identify the waste in your HR Recruiting processes. Then, in part 3, I will show you that fictional company's journey to streamline their recruiting process using the principles of Lean. Then, in part 4, we learn how that company was able to eliminate 45% of the waste in their recruiting process, saving the firm both a lot of time and a lot of money. Stay tuned.

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