Hunting Down Waste

  6 min 23 sec to read
Hunting Down Waste

--By Basant Chaudhary

Kaizen, as understood by now, is all about ridding our business processes of imperfections in a gradual and continuous manner.

But identifying wastes is not as simple as it sounds. What do all businesses wish to do? They want to do the right thing at the right time to create the right quality products or services with minimum waste. But all processes are riddled with different types of wastes at all levels. We need to identify them, eliminate them and save money, leading to a healthier bottom line.

In Kaizen parlance, wastes are found in three forms – Muda, Mura and Muri.

Muda is the most commonly used term and refers to activities that do not add value and are a physical waste of your time and resources.  These can be of two types: (a) tasks which appear essential and for whose elimination business conditions need to be changed; (b) obvious non-value adding tasks which should be removed immediately. 

To make our learning easier, we can remember the wastes falling within the purview of Muda by the acronym TIMWOOD+1. 

‘T’ stands for transportation. You would have often noticed unnecessary movement of people or parts between processes/work stations. This not only wastes time and energy but may also damage products. What is the root cause? Large batches, overproduction and poor plant layout.

‘I’ or inventory-related wastes are again caused by the tendency to over produce and run large batches. This inhibits communication, causes crunch in productive space and delays identification of problems. The financial implications of non-moving inventory are obvious. 

‘M’ or motion tells us about wastes related to ergonomics that is walking, lifting, reaching and unnecessary movement of man or machines that does not add value to product or services. The culprits are poor processes or work station design.

‘W’ or wait time is a waste we are most familiar with. Men or machines are compelled to remain idle waiting for completion of previous operations, material delivery, information and unsolved problems. This happens because material flow is poor, product runs are too long or distance between work stations is far too much. Waiting periods can be slashed by linking of processes so that one feeds directly into the next. 

‘O’ or over-processing causes wastes as companies often do things which the customer has not asked for. Simple examples could include polishing areas that are not required or defining tolerances and specifications much tighter than actually required. One of the reasons behind over-processing is lack of a clearly defined data base of the requirements of different customer segments. General and commoditised products and services get generated much to the annoyance of different segments. 

The second ‘O’ signifies over-production. It should be obvious to you now that it is the fallout of all the points discussed so far, particularly transportation and inventory.       
‘D’ denotes defects which account for big management costs. Lack of required employee involvement and low Kaizen levels lead to defects in products and services often leading to returns, reworking or scrapping of supplies made by the company. This leads to unnecessary paper work, investigations, litigation, loss of existing and potential customers and brand erosion. The overall loss is deep, long and difficult to overcome in the short run. 

The last unnamed part of the acronym TIMWOOD+1, which has been incorporated rather recently, pertains to under-utilisation of  staff, its knowledge or talent, waste of resources like failing to turn off lights and unused machines or not making use of byproducts of your processes.

This, in a way, is the biggest waste because quality of human resource is the real game-changer in business. Yet, many organisations still do not recognise their HR at par with machinery and technology, mainly in the manufacturing sector. Despite its physicality vis-à-vis the knowledge sector like information technology (IT) and IT Enabled Services (ITeS) and, of course, services sector, manufacturing is also gradually becoming more and knowledge driven. Greater stress is being laid on human resource development, ongoing training, skill enhancement, engagement levels, quality consciousness and compliance by managers to cut wastes at all levels. After all, waste identification and elimination and proactive waste prevention can happen only through human intervention.

Mura denotes wastes caused by inconsistency, unevenness and irregularity. It can be avoided by following JIT (just in time) systems, which I had discussed in the first part of my series. The execution can be ensured by keeping little or no inventory and supplying the right part at the right time in the right amount.

Mura is caused by unevenness and inconsistency in our processes. In fact, Mura is the reason behind the wastes listed under Muda above. Often, we are unable to gauge our demand correctly and pass on the unfair burden on to our processes and people and cause inventory and other wastes to swell.

In manufacturing, when the manager is evaluated on his monthly performance, it is often seen that the department goes slow in the first two-three weeks and works full throttle in the final week to meet targets. In the process, it uses up components and produces parts which are not actually required. This adversely impacts the first week of the next month which faces component shortages. The cycle continues and regular focus on targets gets lost. The culture of delays and uneven operations strikes roots. Customers start vanishing. 

Muri pertains to wastes of strain or being unreasonable which the Japanese prefer to describe as overburden or absurdity. We place unnecessary stress on our manpower and processes. This is caused by Mura (fluctuating demand) and several other weaknesses in our systems such as dearth of training, lack of clearly defined ways of working, wrong and faulty performance appraisal systems. This challenge can be easily tackled by standardising work flow.

So you can see how Muda, Mura and Muri are interlinked. Mura causes Muda. The wastes arise because we fail to tackle Mura and Muri within our processes. Wastes listed under Muda are simply symptoms of this failure.  

Let’s not fumble in avoiding these failures. Therefore, first focus on solving Mura and Muri to avoid creation of Muda. Just in Time (JIT) principles, Heijunka, Kanban and other techniques can help you in making production and work flows smooth, thus removing the causes of Mura or unevenness. The other lean tools such as 5S and TPM can help you in tackling overburden, removing Muri.

You should first concentrate on ensuring that your Mura is removed and a level predictable flow is created. This in turn highlights the Muri (unreasonableness) within your system which can then be eliminated. By following this route you will often eliminate the vast majority of Muda that is present within your system.

Attacking Muda first to make a quick impression upon the boss will not produce lasting results as the root causes – Mura and Muri – will remain unattended. The wastes of Muda will keep haunting you.

Let success be your constant companion.

The author is Chairman of BLC (Bhuramal Lunkarandas Conglomerate) and Basant Chaudhary Foundation and can be contacted at feedback@ Views are personal.

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