Waste Basket

There is always some waste!

In lean circles, the three concepts of muda (wastes), mura (uneven), and muri (overburden) are used to target process improvement. Process improvement efforts generally start as an attempt to reduce waste.  Waste reduction is often couched as cost reduction or avoidance. Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System and one of the originators of the quality movement, broke the concept of muda into seven categories. They are:

Defects: Quality defects have a direct cost to the organization.  Quality defects result in rework and scrap. In operational organizations, the costs may include: quarantining inventory, re-inspecting, rescheduling, and capacity loss. These costs can often reflect a significant impact to the amount of value delivered. Capers Jones, the productivity author, and guru, has often stated that improving quality is the single easiest mechanism for radical productivity improvement. Even if poor quality is not largest impact on productivity defects are a significant component of cost.

Overproduction: Overproduction is a reflection of building product or features that are not demanded by actual customers. A tangible example of overproduction can be seen when automakers create more cars than they can sell. In software, this tends to be less of an issue assuming that the business process owner defines the user requirements or user stories. The use of proxy product owners can lead to the creation of features that are not needed or demanded by customers. Gold plating, the act of adding extra bells and whistles to software or product, is a form of overproduction.

Inventory (WIP) – Building materials that have to wait for further processing is a form of waste.  In a software development coding, a large number of stories and then having them sit and waiting for a tester is a form of inventory or working process that can be waste. In Eli Goldratt’s book The Goal, (featured in Re-read Saturday) the work that flowed through the process only to have to wait for the robot processor because it didn’t have enough capacity is a form of inventory or work-in-process. Work-in-process has no value until it’s converted into something that a customer wants and will pay for.

Extra processing  – Processing that does not add value to the customer is extra processing and waste. In a hospital scenario, unnecessary tests would be an example of extra processing. In a data processing operations example, capturing the same information (such as customer name) while processing an insurance claim would be extra processing. In a software development and maintenance environment, relying on indiscriminate manual inspection and full coverage automated testing is a form of extra processing that does not add value.

Unnecessary motion – The unnecessary motion focuses on the movement of people or items. Unnecessary motion is a waste of effort and time.  Unnecessary motion is a cost that reduces an organization’s ability to deliver value. The simple act of having to spend time searching for an email or piece of code translates into unnecessary motion. I recently observed the transition of a firm from one ERP package to another ERP package. During the first few days (and despite a lot of user training) there was a lot of waste due to the unnecessary motion.     

Unnecessary transport and handling – Transportation and handling waste involves moving inventory, people, tools, or other items more often or over farther distances than is needed.  Unnecessary transportation of materials can include moving team members around. The use of distributed teams is an attempt to reduce waste.

Waiting (WIP) – Waiting causes waste in much the same way as excess inventory.  Waiting occurs when an item can’t move whether within a step or between steps when a person or process is not ready to accept the item.  

A recent addition to Ohno’s list is –

Underutilized human capital (or potential) – Humans are often the largest component of any process. Not getting the most from the skills, talents, and creativity of the human component reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of any process (waste). Self-organization and self-management components of agile is an attempt to reduce this form of waste.

Waste is a harsh term that has a harsh sound and an even harsher connotation. Techniques that find process improvement opportunities, such as a Gemba walk, need a focus.  The eight categories of Muda are a good targeting tool to improve the value delivered by any process.