What is Muda?

The concept of Muda [mōōda] and its elimination is one of the core principles integral to Getting Rich Living Lean. The core principles of a getting rich living lean and its cousin Lean Management have been in existence for decades, mostly in the form of a philosophy of business management and made famous by a book called The Machine That Changed the World by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos.

The Machine That Changed the World illustrated how the strategies of associate education, efficient production and a constant focus on continuous improvement enabled the Toyota Motor Corporation to grow from an insignificant local automobile producer in Japan in the early 50’s to the industry leading global company that it is today. In this book the authors went  so far as to equate the potential benefits of Lean Management to the impact of Henry Ford and the moving assembly line.

Simply put muda is waste. However, it’s background is much deeper, take a moment to understand what it means and you will be wiser for it!

Muda is a Japanese word for waste. Though in practice, elimination of muda is very specific focusing you on several key opportunities to become more efficient and therefore reduce your costs or increase your opportunity to be productive (make more money). The concept is one of several that make up the business management approach often referred to as Lean Management, TPS or its close relative Six Sigma.

Every action, step or process in a business and in your life can be categorized in one of three ways. What you do, sell or obtain is either Value-Added, Incidental or Muda (Waste).

From a business’ perspective, value-added is the stuff a customer is willing to pay for. Products or services that a customer needs or desires. On a personal level value-added are those actions, services or products that either bring you income or reduce your expense of time or money, all of which can lead to greater wealth.

Incidental activities are the actions that are not value-added but necessary. These actions are often considered as being necessary but do not directly add any value.

Muda is everything else, the stuff that adds no value and is not necessary. In business, we often refer to the 7 forms of waste. Though Taiichi Ohno, credited for defining these forms of waste, admitted that there are more, he just recognized these as the most common in his operation.

The 7 forms of waste include:

Motion – Do you move unnecessarily during a process or activity. Ever make 3 trips back into the house for things you forgot before finally leaving?

Transportation – Do you move materials or supplies unnecessarily? This isn’t about you moving this is about moving stuff. I’ve walked miles in the kitchen carrying ingredients back and forth; maybe better organization could cut down on how much we have to carry stuff?

Inventory – Having too much, or too little of supplies. Sticking with the kitchen theme, how much does it cost in time, energy and gas when you have to run out at the last minute for missing ingredient? On the other end buying too much of anything is a waste as well. I’ve still got dozens of pipe fittings I purchased 8 years ago (just in case!) during a kitchen renovation.

Over-processing – Doing more than really necessary. Scrubbing the same spot after it’s already clean, repetitive mouse clicks because we don’t know the computer’s shortcut commands, or too much packaging peanuts and such for a non-fragile item are all examples of over-processing.

Rework – As the saying goes, “if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over.” – John Wooden. Rework is just that, having to do anything a second time because it was unacceptable the first. Be it cleaning, repairing, filling out forms a second time we all experience the pain and frustration of rework.

Time – The most obvious to most of us, waiting for another person company or process before we can move forward is a huge waste. Waiting for the computer to finish processing a page, waiting at the doctor’s office long past your appointed time, or waiting in line at the local grocery store costs us all. The more inefficient others are, the less efficient we can be.

Over Production – Producing too much, too soon, or too fast. Speaking of the kitchen how often are we throwing out the leftovers that were never eaten?

Originally there were only 7 forms of waste. Later in life, during an interview Taiichi Ohno stated that “he never said there were only 7 forms of waste.”  The 7 just happened to be the most common his company faced, but are there more?

Talent and Ideas – Consultants that teach these philosophies are sometimes including the waste of talent and ideas as the 8th type of waste. In the heat of the moment, we get frustrated because of wasteful activities, we ponder that there must be a better way. By not taking action and changing our ways we are wasting our capabilities and opportunities.

Cash – A 9th form of waste appropriate to personal financial growth is just plain cash. How many times have you purchased a product or service but never used it? Have you ever bought food that was never eaten, clothes that were never worn or software that was never used?

By training yourself to see the muda you will find that it is easier to save a dollar than to make a dollar. It’s that recognition, which in part, prompted this blog.

There are probably other ways we can categorize waste that are not “official” according to Lean Management. Where else do we have waste in our lives? Please contribute if you can add to the list.