3MUs (Muda, Mura, Muri): A lean Management tool with potentially ‘Big benefits’ for Project Management
Projects are often challenged by constraints of all sorts, predominantly time and costs. The novelties in transition from one project to the next due to newness of: governance structures, client requirements, expected outcomes, eco-systems; and plethora of other factors could turn a project from a dream to a disaster.
The people element and soft science approach, being the foundation of project management, require adjustments and adaptations to a project context. That, if not done properly can lead to problems causing projects to fail. The question then is, how to reduce project failure rates?
One of the mechanisms to cap this slide is to improve project management performance through introduction and use of quality management principles and techniques. While quality management techniques such as fishbone analysis, checklists and control charts, to name a few, are used in project management; yet it seems that there is a need for more to be done.
Towards this objective, Lean project management principles and philosophies could play a significant role to cut waste, improve work flows and processes to enhance project management effectiveness. The intent of proposing the use of Lean philosophies is not to add another layer of processes to an already heavy-process laden project management approaches. But the aim is to integrate more light-weight processes and tools that can be used easily and softly with little documentations and extra efforts.
3MUs (Muda, Mura and Muri) is a lean management (Toyota production system) tool designed to cut waste, and improve processes and work flow. Womack (2006, p.25) defines 3MUs as follows:
▪ Muda = any activity that consumes resources (including time) but creates no value for a customer.
▪ Mura = variation in the operation of a process not caused by the end customer.
▪ Muri = overburden on equipment, facilities, and people caused by Mura and Muda.
Given some of the major reasons project fail are planning and execution driven. Therefore, 3MUs diagnostic tool can be used, both, at planning and execution stages to improve the quality of project performance. We explain this below with some possible uses. However, following is neither an exhaustive nor a perfect list of items / things that can be done using the philosophy of 3MUs. Hence, the list should be taken as an illustration for explanation purposes.
a. Using Muda principle will mean not to do the following
1. Assigning work without matching relevant experience and skills to the task needs.
2. Designing new tools and templates rather than looking for possibilities of using the available tools.
3. Assigning more resources than the effort requirements or work needs.
4. Assigning requirements gathering work to someone with no knowledge and prior experience of similar projects.
5. Asking a new team member to work on creating WBS, activity definition and sequencing; and resource estimations.
6. Assign someone with no experience and knowledge of risk planning and management.
7. Taking a tick box approach to assigning resources to roles.
8. Only involving few selected team members in risk and quality management and not involving the entire team.
b. Using Mura principle, the aim will be to avoid discrepancies, interruptions and irregularities in work flow. It could mean doing several things such as ensuring:
9. Setting project norms and behaviors requirements at the start of the project, and diligently making sure that all team members know them and abide by them.
10. Having clearly delineated reporting relationships, roles and responsibilities.
11. Using project dashboard and charts to monitor work on regular basis.
12. Ensuring IT systems, and other resources at the physical location of project work are smoothly functioning. 13. Having work flow charts displayed at a prominent location for clarity of understanding.
14. Having troubleshooting and escalating procedures worked out and disseminated among the team members for their use in case of any potential situations.
15. Having back-up plan for key / critical resource attrition to avoid disruptions to workflow if anyone of them leave the project mid-way.
16. Having clear Human resource policies that delineate rewards and consequences procedures.
17. Having a balanced workloads for team members.
18. Having clear procedures for redressal of complaints and concerns.
19. Ensuring stable decision making rather than making decisions on fly and rolling them back latter.
20. Having leaders that command respect.
21. Ensuring motivation and commitment of team members is maintained.
22. Ensuring that any changes to procedures should be well considered, consulted and implemented by involving and informing all concerned.
c. Using Muri principle, the aim will be to avoid development of situations that cause stress to team members and process flows. Since Muri, typically, is an outcome when things are not done as per the principles of Muda and Mura, which means not achieving positive results as per ‘a’ and ‘b’ above could potentially result in development of circumstances characterized by Muri principles.
Looking at the above list of items for how 3MUs can be potentially used in management and decisionmaking aspects of project management, one gets the feeling that most of these items can be implemented with least documentations and purely active involvement and engagement of team members. The implementation of 3MUs will require scalable leadership qualities, experience of dealing with situations and earning commitment from team members. Given the leanness of documentation and lightweight processing, it seems that 3MUs is a tool that entails Small effort and potentially Big benefits if used in project management.
Womack, J. P. (2006). From lean tools to lean management. Lean Enterprise Institute.
Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.
He has a growing portfolio of work on issues related to artificial intelligence, machine learning and large language models (LLMs). His work has been published in top scientific journals.
Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the contemporary issues confronting project management and business management in various industry based outlets.
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