Crowd at Delhi War Memorial


The third M in the 3Ms of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is Muri. Muri is typically defined as an overburdened process or team. However, other definitions use terms like unreasonableness and forced which paint a more graphic picture. Every time I talk about Muri, I remember my involvement in more than a few death march projects. The TPS reduces Muri by stripping down processes to their simplest elements and then reassembled into standardized sequences. Teams can complete standard processes in a repeatable fashion. The TPS approach acknowledges the need to understand the time needed to deliver a piece of work and the endurance of the worker or team. Doing work in less than the reasonable amount generates Muri. As a reminder, Fred Brooks alerted us that software development was affected by Muri in Mythical Man-Month. A famous American metaphor, states that you can’t put 10 gallons into a 5-gallon hat. Forcing a team to try to do otherwise creates a big mess. Reducing Muri positively impacts quality, team morale, productivity and cost (all of these factors are interrelated).

Organizations improve quality by reducing Muri. Standard processes help teams to plan and execute work so they make fewer mistakes and so they can be more innovative.

Reducing Muri improves team morale because team members are asked to make fewer uncomfortable comprises. When push comes to shove, compromises can lead to a product getting shipped or implemented with known bugs or less testing than planned. No one feels good about those types of compromises.

Productivity is the ratio of the output of a process divided by the amount of energy need to create that output. The metric, productivity, exists for every value chain and/or process; all processes have inputs and outputs. The reduction of muri effects both sides of the equation. Higher quality translates to less rework, fewer defects and more “good” output. On the other side of the equation because the team has higher morale they will make few mistakes, therefore, each unit of output will need less effort to complete.

Reducing Muri reduces cost. Reduced cost is a direct outcome of higher productivity (productivity is linked to better morale and quality).

Organizations generate Muri through many factors including:

  1.      Processes that workers don’t understand
  2.      Poorly constructed workflows
  3.      Unclear requirements
  4.      Lack of tools and equipment
  5.      Poor communication
  6.      Demand overloads
  7.      Shocks to the workforce

The list could be longer. The resolution of these factors is two-pronged.

Leadership mindset is incredibly important. Concepts such as servant leadership strongly illuminate the idea that the role of leadership is to help the team improve so they can deliver more value. Servant leadership leverages the idea that the team (or organization) want to do their best and do not need constant exhortation or impossible stretch goals to generate motivation. Leadership needs to resist the urge to overfill the 5-gallon hat.

Second, the team and leadership need to measure flow and use the information generated to improve the flow. One of the principles in the Agile Manifesto directly addresses Muri.

“Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

Mura, Muri and even Muda are inextricably linked. Overloading a process and the people using the process does all sorts of damage. Measuring flow provides feedback to diagnose, identify the impact of, and improve Muri.