Monthly Archives: November 2007

Muri, Hubris and the Laws of Proportion

reason that the Toyota Production System is so effective is that it is
built around many fundamental principles which apply universally. One
of these pieces of timeless wisdom is that muri is bad and should be
avoided. Muri is the “overburden” or “unreasonableness.” Many of us try
to fit more into our lives or in our work than s reasonable. We try to
overcome muri through heroic effort and work-arounds. Accepting muri as
a condition of existence results in waste.

Two and a half centuries ago the philosopher Plato said:

If one sins against the laws of proportion and gives something
too big to something too small to carry it – too big sails to too small
a ship, too big meals to too small a body, too big powers to too small
a soul – the result is bound to be a complete upset. In an outburst of
hubris the overfed body will rush into sickness, while the
jack-in-office will rush into the unrighteousness that hubris always

Much of what we do in Lean is to attempt to bring things back into
balance with the laws of proportion. Supply and demand. Cycle time and
takt time. Customers and suppliers. Workload and machine capacity. Work
and life. Muri is at the root of waste, and there are many reasons we
do muri.

In some cases muri is imposed upon, it is not a choice. If Plato is
correct, some of us choose to do muri because of hubris. Hubris is
excessive pride. It is a tragic flaw that results from a lack of
balance in our understanding of ourselves. The opposite of hubris may
be humility.

We should certainly challenge ourselves to do more than what we
believe is possible, but not to deceive ourselves and go against the
laws of proportion. That would be muri.

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Incremental vs. Seismic

Process improvement projects tend to fall into two categories: incremental or seismic. 

Incremental projects are the small, minor, and often specifically
targeted improvement projects. Seismic projects are those that shift
ground, radically changing processes or people interfaces or software –
or all three. New ground is broken, or old ground is swept away and new
ground laid. Both categories have their advantages.

Advantages of incremental projects: 

  • Incremental projects are easier to schedule, plan, and implement.
  • Incremental projects can improve a process or
    approach a desired goal without major changes for users, administrators
    or system support.
  • Being incremental, such projects are more likely
    to garner buy in by stakeholders, increasing the odds of successful
  • And, lastly, in a worst case scenario, if the project is not successful, the incremental projects can usually be rolled back.

Advantages of seismic projects:

  • Big changes can equal big improvements.
  • There are times that major changes are necessary, such as when new equipment or software is obsoleted and being replaced.
  • With buy in by stakeholders, seismic projects can make great leaps forward in one fell swoop.
  • Planning a large seismic project requires by its
    nature involvement by all other work groups, departments, and players.
    The success of the project requires all involved parties, and thus they
    are involved from the start. This will result in the project reflecting
    the needs of all parties, as long as they are given a voice in all
    discussions…read more

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