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). (more…)

Sign that says walk you bike beyond this point

Progress requires walking and riding!


The 3Ms, Muda (waste), Muri (overburden), and Mura (uneven) are core concepts in the Toyota production system (TPS). When discussed from a lean or process improvement perspective outside of the TPS, Muda gets the most focus because waste feels more tangible. However, Mura, defined as the lack of uniformity or unevenness in flow is even more central to a discussion of change than Muda. Addressing Mura requires a focus on flow. Focusing on flow provides an oversized impact on process improvement because it affects consistency, predictability and even waste and burden. Improving flow is the keystone for improvement.

Toyota’s focus on flow spawned the concepts of just-in-time (JIT) production systems. In manufacturing and operations, JIT approaches require integrated supply chains that minimize inventories, reduce batch sizes and move closer to continuous delivery. In manufacturing, Kanban is a technique that implements both a flow focus and JIT concepts. We already know that knowledge work – such as software development and maintenance or customer-facing operations – are not necessarily driven primarily by interruption and therefore are not inherently resistant to a focus on flow.

Daniel S Vacanti, author of Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability (interview and re-read) used a simple measure of work item cycle time to focus on flow. Vacanti’s book suggests that by measuring cycle time, teams and organizations and improve and deliver more value to their stakeholders. Cycle time is a measure of flow. Steve Tendon, author of Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance: The TameFlow Approach makes a similar set of arguments based on the Theory of Constraints (Goldratt, The Goal).

Reducing Mura takes two related paths. The first is reducing variability. We define variability as a lack of consistency. Scatterplots are a tool to visualize the definition of variability. Using the scatterplot diagram developed during the re-read of Actionable Agile Metrics (week 11), variability is the range between the lowest and highest cycle time. Reducing variability would flatten all of the observations on the scatter plot (the range would be less).

A menu of techniques to address variation includes reducing interruptions and introduction of expedited work items, reducing batch and work item sizes, addressing workload, solid definitions of ready and done and backlog grooming. Deciding on which approach(s) will be effective requires an understanding of the team or organization’s context. Enter the need to go and see what is happening at the team level (Gemba Walk!).

A second and related avenue for reducing Mura is to increase throughput. That is, focus on increasing the delivery rate of work items. Involve the team in finding ways to deliver value faster. Faster is not permission to deliver lower quality or to game the definition of done. When challenged to reduce cycle time (increase speed) teams will usually focus on reducing overhead and non-value-added steps (you will recognize this as Muda). Address getting work done faster using many techniques such as shifting testing to the left, using test first techniques, reducing batch and work item size, scaling overhead, reducing non-value-added meetings, implementing continuous delivery and backlog grooming. Again, which technique makes sense depends on context.

Reducing the Mura requires a focus on reducing variability. Cycle time is a direct reflection of variability. Improving cycle time is the cornerstone of any process improvement approach. Reducing the variability of cycle time means that teams and organizations have to address the systemic issues identified as other forms of waste.



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: (more…)

Mt Kilamajaro

If you don’t walk you won’t see the world.

A Gemba walk is a formal tool to see what is happening and to use that observation to develop improvements. The term Gemba comes from the Japanese term gembutsu, which means “real thing” which is sometimes translated to “real place.” In the workplace, the concept translates to observing where teams work or deliver value. Like many process improvement tools, the concept of a Gemba walk is deceptively simple because it is a mix of structured process and art. The basic process is:

  1. Prepare for the walk. Preparing for the walk includes “sub” steps:


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SPaMCAST 483 will feature our essay on measuring the value delivered by agile. The essay begins: “Organizations and teams come to agile—for that matter, any concept, framework or technique—for a wide variety of reasons.  Even if we are just the keeping up with the neighbors, we need feedback to know if we have met our goal.  We need feedback because—to quote Paul Gibbons, author of The Science of Successful Organizational Change (Re-read Saturday)—“we confuse what we think ought to work” with what does work (quote from SPaMCAST 480).”

Four Agile Value Entries:

Does Agile Deliver Measurable Value?

Measuring the Value of Agile

Does Agile Deliver Value? You Can Prove it!

Measuring The Impact of Change: An Example

Our second column features Steve Tendon who brings his Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban  (buy a copy here) to the cast.  Today we complete our discussion of Chapter 21.  We have spent extra time on chapters 20 and 21 to get to the heart of the important concepts in these chapters.

In our final column, Jon Quigley brings his Alpha and Omega of Product Development column to the cast.  In this segment, we discuss Agile Culture.  Agile is often crippled when organizations don’t spend the time and effort needed to adopt a culture and mindset that incents innovation and productivity.

Re-Read Saturday News

This week we are taking a break to remind you to vote in the poll to pick the next book!  Many Bothans died to bring us this poll (Star Wars reference in case you missed the movie)! We will be back next week in full force!


Previous Installments
Introduction and Game Plan

Week 2: Flow, Flow Metrics, and Predictability

Week 3: The Basics of Flow Metrics

Week 4: An Introduction to Little’s Law

Week 5: Introduction to CFDs

Week 6: Workflow Metrics and CFDs

Week 7: Flow Metrics and CFSs

Week 8: Conservation of Flow, Part I

Week 9: Conservation of Flow, Part II

Week 10: Flow Debt

Week 11: Introduction to Cycle Time Scatterplots

Week 12: Cycle Time Histograms

Week 13: Interpreting Cycle Time Scatterplots

Week 14: Service Level Agreements

Week 15: Pull Policies

Week 16: Introduction to Forecasting

Week 17: Monte Carlo Method Introduction


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Upcoming Webinars and Conferences

Using Size to Drive Testing in Agile
Tom Cagley & Associates and Sealights Webinar
Tue, Mar 13, 2018 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM EDT

QAI Quest 2018
The Three Amigo’s Role in Agile
May 21-25, 2018,
San Antonio, Texas

May 11
Rome, Italy

I will also be at Agile West.  More information next week!


SPaMCAST 484 will our interview with Andriy  Bas of UPTech.  Andriy and his partner have created a firm that has truly embraced the ideas of agile and holacracy to create a highly productive, collaborative and safe environment.


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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 479 three columns!  The first column features a recent essay on the difference between a coach and a mentor in the form of a simple checklist. Which do you need?  Check out the other three entries in this theme on the Software Process and Measurement Cast blog.

Our second column features Steve Tendon who brings his Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban  (buy a copy here) to the cast.  Chapter 20 and 21 are extremely important to understanding and applying the TameFlow approach, therefore, we are spending time with the author to get to the heart of the concepts.

Anchoring the cast is Jon Quigley returning with his column, Alpha and Omega of Product Development.  Jon and I discussed why employee engagement is more than an academic topic.

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SPaMCAST 473 features our essay on 6 Important Flow Metrics!  Getting the most value out of a process is important to any leader.  Balancing getting the most value with getting value sooner complicates the discussion.  In some cases, getting some value sooner is worth more than the same value delivered later.  Guiding the delivery of value is more complicated than a rank ordering a list of user stories and then magically hoping that everything will happen in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  Measurement is an important tool to help teams and organizations ask the right questions.  The 6 flow metrics provide process transparency into organizations that leverage continuous flow, scrumban, and/or Scrum as the basis for their Agile implementations.

We will also complete our discussion of part 3 (3 of 3) of chapter 20 of Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban  (buy a copy here).


Re-Read Saturday News

This week,  we tackle Chapter 8 of Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability: An Introduction by Daniel S. Vacanti. Chapter 8 is titled, Conversion of Flow Part II.  Remember that requirement in Little’s Law.that work that enters the process, completes and leaves.  We do a deeper dive on why that is important.  Buy your copy today and read along! (more…)

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