Kaizen: Looking Deeper, Seeing More


looking_closerWaste in a process (any process, not just development) can be categorized in one of three fundamental ways:

  • Adds no value
  • Causes uneven or inconsistent flow
  • Results in over-exertion

Waste reduction is approached by:

  • Developing an ability to see waste where it was not perceived before.
  • Striving to reduce waste thru many small changes – kaizen
  • Becoming aware when a local peak has been reached and further efforts provide diminishing returns

If all of us follow this practice, guaranteed we will deliver the right amount of value to our customers with the right amount of effort behind it.

The 3M’s of Waste

The idea of reducing waste (eliminating it completely actually) was brought to manufacturing in part by Henry Ford, and later in full byTaiichi Ohno. Ohno developed it as part of the Toyota Production System. (btw, kaizen, WIP, etc., also have a direct lineage to TPS.)

Ohno was unrelenting in the way he approached continual optimization. To him, business (and life) was about looking for inefficiencies and setting up a system to address and resolve issues for a more efficient process – resulting in added value and ultimately in more revenue and profitability.

The view from 10,000 feet:

  • A process (development or manufacturing) adds value by producing something (goods or services) that customers actually want and are willing to pay for.
  • Along the way the process necessarily consumes resources. (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch – TANSTAAFL)
  • Waste occurs when more resources are consumed than are necessary to produce the goods or services.

Let’s get down to the runway and look at the three kinds of waste TPS categorizes in detail. (We’ll use the Japanese terminology.)


Muda is made of two characters: 無 = none  +  駄 = trivial or un-useful

It means an activity that is wasteful in that it doesn’t add value at all or is just plain unproductive in terms of time, resources and ultimately money.


Mura is a single character: 斑 which means unevenness, inconsistency, irregularity,

It is a basis of “Just In Time” delivery – where the goal is to keep little or no inventory and supplying the process with the right “stuff”, at the right time, in the right amount, and with the right level of quality. All of these measures – time, quantity, and quality are equally important. This “smooths” the process flow and minimizes unused inventory. No bottlenecks, no stoppages. It is one of the reasons WIP limits are so effective. Striving for frequent deliveries of items in “a done state”  are key to identifying and eliminating Mura.


Muri is composed of 無 = none  + 理 = reason

Literally  “unreasonable” –  in our context: overburden, strain or absurdity

The Practice of Kaizen


We all can continuously develop our abilities to see waste where it was not perceived before. All it takes is a questioning mind that asks “Is what I think true…?” (A closed mind is certain it knows, and thus solidifies its reality.)

Which parts of a process add value and which do not? Once we learn to see the difference and can separate value-adding work from non-value-adding. We can then look to further refine our vision:

  • What “needs” to be done but is non-value-adding? For this type, seek input and opinion from others. Be prepared to defend it or suspend it.
  • What is a pure waste and can be removed from the process?

And with this new view, we can be a change agent and work smarter individually and collectively. The key is to be open-minded and to seek solutions, not excuses nor complaints, and definitely not blame…

Small, Continual Changes

Our practice is something we should do everyday – not in bursts, and not in addition to “our day job”..

  • Focus on one or two areas at a time – avoid brush fires, and avoid trying to swallow the sea.
  • What can you eliminate, combine, re-arrange, simplify, standardize, automate?
  • Strive for simplicity. Look for changes that don’t require a huge effort.
  • Think about, identify and eliminate many small instances of waste.
  • Continually improve – things won’t be perfect in an instant, and when they get “perfect” they might not stay there very long.

When is Enough Enough?

Even though the process is never ending, there are local maximums that will be reached. At that local “peak” additional efforts will produce little to no value – diminishing returns.

Sounds like… you got it: muda! At that point, you can move on to something else, or pivot/rethink the now great process and aim your path to get to the top of the next mountain…

Kaikaku and Kakushin – are related terms

Kaikaku shares the “kai” character for change, but kaku= transformation, so kaikaku means making radical changes or reforms to the existing situation. Step changes.

Kakushin (the second half of kai+kaku)  is a complete departure from the current situation. It is about innovation, reform and renewal.

And those second “k’s” will be the topic for another day…

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