Muda Walk to find waste

“Muda” in Japanese means waste. Imai says that in Japan, companies especially noted for implementing Lean, such as Toyota, at all levels of managers are expected to spend one hour a day in the operations area doing a Muda Walk.

Masaaki Imai, a leader expert on Lean techniques, encourages managers to do a Muda Walk daily. “Muda” in Japanese means waste. Imai says that in Japan, companies especially noted for implementing Lean, such as Toyota, at all levels of managers are expected to spend one hour a day in the operations area doing a Muda Walk.

This is more than the management by walking around technique made famous by Tom Peters. This is not really walking around, but going to the work area to watch the operations. This is watching for a long time, not passing through. Watching to see how the work process is done. It is watching to see where improvements can be made. It's a good hour of watching!

Contrast this approach with construction.

When starting out, the owner walked the job at least daily and knew every aspect of the work. He was the project manager, and this was his project.

Now, most owners occasionally go to the job site and then spend much of the time in the trailer. The project manager may walk the job weekly, but usually has too much paperwork to really watch.

The same can be said for the service manager. When he first did service work, he knew how each call went because he was the technician. Now, he is too busy fighting fires to ride with each technician and see how the work is being performed.

Even in the fab shop, the superintendent is often too busy estimating jobs or doing material orders to go watch the fabrication.

Wanting to apply Imai's Muda Walk for contractors, I challenged a number of construction managers to do a Muda Walk for a month. I had 17 different managers volunteer to do a Muda Walk one hour each workday. To avoid being too repetitious and to provide additional motivation, I emailed a new message each morning. The message suggested where to look for Muda and which waste to focus on.

The results were mixed but overall positive.

“The format and the descriptions were very workable and gave something that we could sink our teeth in,” said one participant.

Another participant noted, “It helped me see that even though I have done improvement, there is always something here and there to improve on. Even if it is a small improvement, it is still something that happened to make something work more efficiently.”

Most participants came up with an average of one improvement each day they did a Muda Walk. That came to about 20 ideas in one month. Most of the improvement ideas were not major in impact, but all improved operations. The following are some of the improvement ideas identified:

  • “I immediately noticed that our shop manager and PM's had a considerable distance to walk — approximately 90 steps every time they wanted to retrieve a fax or information from their in-basket. I bought a new machine that will fax, scan, copy and put it in their department just a few steps from their desks.”

  • “Lock and drives that are delivered with the sheet metal on large projects are stacked in bundles on the floor of the trailer. We will develop some sort of pallet or organizing box with wheels to ship these items.”

  • “We have been receiving fabrication requisitions with not enough information. The information is being requested after the drawings are already given to the shop. Since the information has to be found, the employee has to be directed to do something else. We have had discussions with fab processing to ensure that all information is on fab tickets.”

  • “We have been tagging the wrong duct off of the fitting machine because it was not done right after the fitting was burned. We have instructed the fitting machine operator to tag as soon as the fitting is burned.”

  • “The welding area needed a way for the new stud welder to keep everything together. A cart has been made for the stud welder.”

  • “We are having to move material, so other trades can install their work. We had some duct that could not be installed due to drywall conflicts. We need to identify these areas and not ship ductwork until the drywall is complete.”

When asked if they would recommend the Muda Walk for their peer or business associates, the participants answered:

“Yes, it's like having a personal trainer. It always helps to have someone push you!”

“Yes, it allows you to see your operation from a different perspective.”

“Yes, we may attempt something in-house. We have several upper level managers that could benefit greatly from this same exercise and topics.”

The Muda Walk is a simple tool any manager can use. Invest the time in watching what is happening, and it will payback dividends. The challenge with most managers is that we can't or won't make the time to go and see what is happening where the work is done. We all have the same 24 hours in a day!

Dennis Sowards is an industry consultant and guest writer for Contractor Magazine. His company is Quality Support Services, Inc. and can be reached at [email protected] or at (480/835-1185).

Seven types of waste

Defects: The wrong installation, defects in fabrication, punch lists and many kinds of change orders not meeting the required code.

Over-production of goods: Fabricating material too early, stockpiling material either in the warehouse or at the job site, estimating jobs that are not won, and printing more blueprints or making more copies of a report than needed.

Transportation: Excessive loading, unloading and hauling of the same materials in the shop, jobsite and staging area.

Waiting: Delayed tools, materials or information, such as time sheets.

Over-processing: Over-engineering, additional signatures, multiple handling, duplicate entries on forms, and getting double and triple estimates from suppliers.

Motion: Treasure hunts for tools, materials or information, such as drawings, contracts or reference books.

Inventory: Uncut materials, works in process, finished fabrications, materials not yet installed and being used by the customer including spare parts, unused tools, consumables, forms, copies, employee stashes and personal stockpiles.