I See Muda, Mura and Muri Everywhere

I learnt about an interesting concept in an unusual situation. Over the weekend, I was waiting in the check-out line in Costco (a local wholesale warehouse / store) with only couple of items bought to ring through the cash registers. Being a wholesale store, people buy stuff in large quantities and given the weekend, the lines were really long which meant long wait times.  A woman behind me also had just a handful of items waiting to be billed and she was clearly frustrated with the whole wait situation. Looking at me she said “look at us, we have just a handful of items and even we have to wait for such a long time”. I smiled at her comment and said ” yes, clearly there should be a better way to cut the wait times”. She concurred with me and said –

I see Muda, Mura and Muri everywhere“.

Obviously I did not understand anything what she said and asked her what she meant by that. She smiled and said that she was a Lean & Agile Project Management expert and those were the terms from her field. Before she could explain further, the cash register next to me opened up and I was called to step ahead and check-out. I bid her good-bye and while I was moving on she said “look-up those terms and read about Toyota Production System, they are pretty interesting concepts and gives you a new lens to look at the world”

For the past couple of days, I have been reading about Toyota Production System and am in awe of this new field of knowledge. Taiichi Ohno, a former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation is credited with conceptualizing this new System. Some of the concepts such as Muda, Mura and Muri have ubiquitous application potential.

Taiichi Ohno discovered a fallacy in mass production and observed –

“… insufficient standardization and rationalization creates waste (muda), inconsistency / un-evenness (mura), and unreasonableness / overburden (muri) in work procedures and work hours that eventually lead to the production of defective products.”


The meaning of these terms are further explained by Toyota Blog Site. Having learnt about the concept, I have tried to write about these concepts more generally and relate to my area of work vs. in the context of production that this was originally conceptualized.

Muda (Waste) – Refers to a wide range of non-value-adding activities. Something that is not valued from a customer’s perspective. Muda is caused by seven factors:

1) Transportation — a cost that adds no value to the product but increases the risk of a product being damaged, lost or delayed (e.g. driving to and fro Costco, moving files / data around, driving to bank to withdraw cash, etc.)

2) Inventory — more information, projects or materials than what customer needs right now (e.g. bulk purchases at Costco, unused space in servers, more features in a program / application than needed, more apps downloaded than necessary, etc.)

3) Motion — any movement that adds no value (e.g. searching for products in a store, searching for relevant search results, moving paper work around, moving mails around, etc.)

4) Waiting — idle time created when processes, people or systems are not ready (e.g.  waiting in check-out line at Costco, waiting while computer is searching or processing, waiting on phone for customer service, etc.)

5) Over-processing — more work done than necessary (e.g. using complex tools for simple tasks, having meetings that are not needed, over analysis than necessary, long discussions / mail strings on trivial matters, etc.)

6) Over-production — generating more than what is required (e.g. creating reports that no one reads, making extra copies for meetings, more information than the customer needs, etc. )

7) Defects — work that contains errors, rework, mistakes or lacks something necessary (e.g. data entry error, meetings without right participants or proper agenda, unreconciled reports, etc.)

Mura (Irregularity, Inconsistency) –  It is the un-evenness or imbalanced work within a process not caused by the end customer. (e.g. all reports processed during month or quarter close week, Invoice approvals, reconciliation approvals and report reviews all happening at the same time, closure of many sales deals in the last quarter of the year)

Muri (Overburden): This is the overburden on people, process or system caused by Muda and Mura. (e.g. few people fire-fighting to fix mistakes of others, employees working crazy hours during month or quarter close)

In the context of waiting in Costco, there was Mura (customers with uneven volume of purchases) that caused Muda (long wait times) and resulted in Muri (overburden on the cashier) eventually creating a frustrating experience for the customer.

Toyota Production Systems goal is –

“Eliminate Muda, Mura, Muri completely”

In Rigveda, an ancient Sanskrit collection of hymns, there is a hymn – “Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah” which means “Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions”. Literally noble thoughts and learning came to me while waiting in line at Costco.

Image Credit


One thought on “I See Muda, Mura and Muri Everywhere

  1. Pingback: Process design – Efficiency gains | apbookmarks

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