In Kanban, we are always trying to optimize for efficiency, effectiveness and predictability. Waste in the system is something that hurts all three of these objectives and is something we want to remove or reduce wherever possible.

In the automotive manufacturing sector in the 1950s, it was believed that an American worker was ten times more effective than a Japanese worker. This was too large a difference to be explained by the equipment so Taiichi Ohno (the father of the Toyota Production System) set about optimizing the process that they were using. Over many decades, he identified and either eliminated or reduced many different forms of waste in their system to make it as lean as we see today.

While the forms of waste found in automotive manufacturing don’t map perfectly to the kinds of waste we see in knowledge work, the ideas and approaches certainly do.

He defined three broad categories of waste that still apply to what we’re doing.

  • Muda is any activity that takes our time or resources while not adding value to the customer. This could be building features that aren’t needed or having low quality that results in defects and rework.
  • Mura is unevenness in an operation. In knowledge work, this might be things that start and stop or unneccesary rules that make it difficult to get things done.
  • Muri is overburdening of people or equipment. This could be too much work in progress.

While some forms of waste are fairly obvious (ie building things that don’t get used), many others are far more subtle. We’ll be talking about a variety of them on this site over time and they’ll be linked below.