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Muri Muda Mura – Pursuit for Optimal Process

March 20, 2012

You may have heard these three Japanese ‘M’ words repeated by any process engineer at a Japanese manufacturing company. Muri Muda Mura mean overwork, waste, and inconsistency respectively. Toyota, one of the world’s best companies in the operations management, taught us to avoid them like the plague. A crusade against Muri Muda Mura is one of the key pillars of the famous Toyota Production System.

In a conventional analogy, Muri Muda Mura are explained like this. Trying to make 200 goods every day while your machinery has capacity to produce only 100 is Muri. Making only 50 with a machine capable for 100 is Muda. Producing 200 on one day and 50 on another day is Mura.

Although it was started in the manufacturing domain, the concept was so simple and strong that now it’s applied to any other industries. Let’s take IT as an example. Overloading a small project team with a fixed budget and deadline with never- ending customer’s requirements is Muri. Letting the same project team work on a routine maintenance work after the project completion is Muda. Having the same team go through this roller coaster cycle project after project is Mura. Well, didn’t it sound uncommon after all?

Muri for Overwork

Toyota might have succeeded to eliminate Mura from the shop floor. Among the Japanese white collar workforce, however, Muri or overwork is engraved on thier work ethics. They are still struggling to embrace the ‘work smarter, not harder’ concept. Many statistics show that Japanese office worker productivity ranks at the bottom while the amount of working hour scores at the top.

Maxing out one’s capacity occasionally would be a great way to expand and grow. However, always running at a 100+% speed is not sustainable. Otherwise you will burn out or, in the worse case, go Karoushi. So how can you say ‘no’ to seemingly endless stream of work? By eliminating Muda.

Muda for Waste

As one of bestsellers in the operations management, ‘The Goal,’ illustrated with the Boy Scout hiking example, the process’ overall throughput (the Scout troop’s hiking speed) is determined by the least productive node in the system (the slowest hiker, Herbie’s speed.) Any work more than the overall throughput is Muda or waste. Sub-optimization is the plague.

Again, the concept can be extended out of the manufacturing site. All the paperwork and hustles required to get things done internally to the company, for example, would be Muda if they don’t add value to the end customer. Avoiding sub-optimized Muda will then eliminate overwork or Muri, which in turn will help you cope with uncertainty, or Mura.

Mura for Inconsistency

Mura is a swing – an enemy of the optimal process. To utilize the best out of its capacity, you should have consistent inflow of work into the system. As you can imagine, this consistency is the foundation of the Just-in-Time (JIT) production. Just the right amount of input matching to the overall throughput – no more or no less.

JIT sounded great until the Tsunami hit Japan and the rain flooded Thailand. The weak point of JIT is its inability to cope with uncertainty, which we now know is the reality of the world. Eliminating Mura is good, but eliminating your capability to handle Mura is bad. The world is changing rapidly and drastically. The chance of your survival depends on your ability to adjust to Mura – rapidly and drastically.

Today’s Lesson

Muri Muda Mura – manage them wisely to catch up Toyota and go beyond!

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