Skill level: Basic
Muda means “waste” in Japanese. By walking a process, the shop floor, or the working and social areas (offices, corridor, cafeteria, etc.) of an organization, a manager can learn more about what is happening than by any other means. A manager should spend about one hour a day during various, random times walking around the department and observing employees working, interacting, and wandering. It is a matter of learning to recognize waste and gaining the courage to call it “waste.”
A muda walk is different than the management by walking around technique made famous by business management guru Tom Peters. Muda is about going to the work area to observe operations, watching to see how work processes are conducted, and noting where there is room for improvement. This requires watching operations for a long time and cannot be accomplished simply by passing through.
- Creates an awareness of operations
- Increases the manager’s knowledge of a department or area of responsibility
- Offers an opportunity to “walk the talk”
- Stimulates productivity by removing waste: movements, defects, waiting time, over-processing, rework, lack of motivation, over-skilled employees, work in process (stacks of paper)
How to Use
- Step 1. Set a time of the day for walking the department and observation.
- Step 2. Stay in one area for several minutes and take notes (either mental notes or on paper) about all of the opportunities for improvement.
- Step 3. Consolidate notes and observations into one document for each day. Review the list of opportunities with employees and develop solutions that will improve the process, remove waste, and engage workers.
Waste: Any activity that is not adding value to the product or service or an activity that the customer is not willing to pay for.
A manager at a call center has noted that the number of dropped calls has increased by more than 15 percent during the last two months and wants to know why. The manager decides to take hour-long walks twice each day to monitor how employees are handling calls. The first daily walk occurs at the beginning of the morning shift and the second is at a random time, but usually in the afternoon.
For 15 consecutive days, the manager spends two to three hours observing employees working and answering customer calls. During the first two to three days, he doesn’t notice any room for improvement, but soon he observes the following:
- In the morning, employees are more likely to chat about last night’s television show than plan the day.
- Computer start-up takes a long time, which has an impact on the first call of the day because customers have to wait for their files to load.
- During one call, an agent used more than 12 different screens while talking to a customer. The cycle time between screens (changeover) was more than 11 seconds.
- During the afternoon, most agents have more than 7 calls in the queue, and some have more than 10.
- Agents had complained that the system was slow and, on many occasions, cumbersome and not user friendly. The muda walk helped the manager gain insight into their comments and find out why the number of dropped calls increased.
Using his team’s knowledge and expertise, the manager found quick solutions to remedy the problem. Also, he was able to deliver a better message about productivity, which helped employees focus on their work by reducing (but not eliminating) the time spent in the morning chatting.