With Agile development and Lean practices so popular nowadays, sometimes the history behind these practices and philosophies is overlooked or skipped over entirely. Unfortunately, when people miss the underpinnings upon which these concepts are based, they also tend to distort and remake those principles into something that only barely resembles the original concepts behind them.
Most of what we consider to be modern “Agile” and “Lean” approaches to product design, development, and implementation all stem from a variety of manufacturing principles that coalesced into the Toyota Production System in the late 1940s. This process was a vast departure from the Western approach to production lines — the interchangeable parts an always-moving production line, in which people were just another cog in the wheel. Rather, the TPS system focused on several principles designed to implement systemic processes to allow people to provide feedback into the work being done and how it might be improved. The development of these principles, and their application in the “Toyota” way slowly built between the 40s into the 70s, where it became more broadly adopted under the guise of “just-in-time manufacturing.”
Many books have been written on the TPS process (with all apologies to Office Space fans), and I would encourage people interested in the history to do some research — but for this article I wanted to focus on what the TPS system views as “waste” and how each is specifically defined, because when we talk about Agile and Lean trying to eliminate “waste”, we probably really mean one of these three things:
- Muda = “Waste” or failures of people or processes to efficiently deliver product.
- Mura = “Unevenness”, or failures related to unpredictable or inconsistent outputs.
- Muri = “Overburden”, or failures of standardization to create efficient process.