DCAF Muda Monster

Lean Thinking and the Muda Monster – Beware the missed principle.

You can’t move these days for a monster or a mythical creature. Is it the only way we will take note of an advert or read an article? I’m hoping so! In TV adverts debts and highly-priced insurance policies are portrayed as hairy creatures devouring our money. The Government reportedly spent £8.5million on a big purple, fluffy monster called “Workie” to promote workplace pensions. It has even progressed to our favourite Christmas TV adverts culminating in a children’s author accusing a well-known high street brand of using an illustration from his book for the basis of their seasonal monster portrayal. This short piece isn’t about all the above monsters I just used those as a way to grab your attention (are you reading now?). It is, though, about an insurance companies’ monster called “nagging-doubt”. In the adverts, the fluffy monster is everywhere the customers turn, including in the bedroom, their kitchen and even the rubbish bin.

Our very own lean monster – the Muda Monster.

The first page of the introduction (p15) of my version of Womack and Jones’ Lean Thinking is headed “Lean Thinking Versus. Muda”. It is a great start to the book and got me hooked. Like the “nagging doubt” monster from the advertising campaign this Muda stuff appears everywhere in every organisation. Once trained and fitted with the correct “filter” or “specs” you can spot it from 100 paces. It can be overwhelming as like “nagging doubt” it is around every corner and in every workplace. Once you can see it you can go about reducing or eliminating it. It can become all consuming. This has kept many a “lean” practitioner busy for years…….. Now for the but…….

But, I was “doing” lean wasn’t I? I was tracking down and eliminating waste in all its’ 7,8 or more forms. Inventory is muda and must be eliminated mustn’t it? I have been as guilty as any lean practitioner out there of doing this when it suited me, it’s so easy, it’s lazy lean!

Beware the missed principle.

To see the real problem that the Muda Monster has caused we need to re-visit the Lean Principles that are at the heart of this worldwide bestselling business book. On the very next page of the book is principle one: Specify Value. In my opinion with these two words we have the real power of the principles of lean. To truly understand value we must understand demand, context, circumstances, requirements, specifications, history and motivations. We must understand the problem that we are looking to solve for the customer. Womack and Jones go on in this book and others to describe this defining principle more fully. It shows us why muda appears in the first place and where it is derived. If we don’t specify value we can easily sprint off in the wrong direction and make the wrong things more efficiently.

Demand, Capacity and Flow.

When our activity isn’t perfectly matched or synchronised to the demands of the customer muda creeps back in. Seasonality, weekends, shifts, product specifications, batch sizes….. everything we do needs to match what the customer is asking from us for us to be muda free. Pull systems, Takt and other tools drive us to do this. Many lean tools we ignore as we cherry-pick the easy ones or the ones that match our view of value. Do this at your peril, beware the missed first principle.

Next time you are on a muda hunt and it is seems to be everywhere you look remember to heed the “nagging doubt”. Don’t just blindly continue, go back to the first lean principle and see how demand matches your capacity and capability to fulfil it. You can only banish the Muda Monster for good by matching capacity with demand and thereby delivering true value.