Mura, Muri, Muda

These are Lean words, in Japanese, and I always get them confused, especially the first two, so I am doing this post partly to remind me what each word means. They are all in the negative.

Mura: Unevenness of flow. Thus, the first thing to do is establish a reasonable pull, an even flow.

Muri: Overburdening the system. (The system being the overall thing you are talking about; generally not a computer system.) Thus, once you establish a production “pipe,” don’t try to force more through that pipe than it can handle. As a fluid dynamics person will tell you, if you overburden the pipe, it means even less liquid will travel through the pipe in a given time period.

Muda: Waste. This is further defined by Type I and Type II muda and by the classic seven wastes. “Muda” is an ugly word in Japanese; like an earthy but dirty Anglo-Saxon word, or so I am told.

The classic definition of Type I muda is necessary waste, i.e., something that does not add value in the customer’s eyes, but we feel, as a business, it is necessary. (Compliance with government regulations might be an example.) I call this “waste we have not yet figured out how to live without” (maybe not true of all things in this category).

The classic definition of Type II muda is unnecessary waste. I’ll call this obvious waste (as soon as you put yourself in a position to see it).

There is, of course, an inter-relationship between the three (mura, muri, muda).

In general, I find these ideas very similar to things we say in Agile, Scrum, XP, etc.

Jim Womack suggested that Lean thinkers practice those in that order, i.e., focus on mura first, then muri and then muda. Perhaps this is good advice for Agile. (BTW, if you don’t know Jim Womack, get one of his books, “Lean Thinking.” Highly recommended.)

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8 thoughts on “Mura, Muri, Muda

  1. Anonymous

    I thought Type I muda was the kind you couldn’t currenlty do without (i.e., quality inspections) and Type II muda was the type to be eliminated immediately, the 7 deadly wastes in other words.

  2. Joe Little

    Hi Anon.,
    I have been fortunate enough to do courses with Jeff Sutherland. Although he really likes the Lean ideas, he has never said he was influenced by Lean in the early 1990s when they created Scrum.
    Still, he, you and I agree the ideas are completely compatible. Well, maybe there are some minor differences (as always), but mostly very compatible.
    Regards, Joe

  3. Joe Little


    Yes! Well, as you may have noticed I referenced Jim Womack at the end of this post. So, yes, these ideas make sense, I think. And of course, do many.


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