Management Muda
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“If you want to retain those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent.”

-- Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

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-- W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis


Management Muda by Kevin McManus

First published in Industrial Engineer magazine June 2004

As an Industrial Engineer who believes very strongly in the principles of my profession, I am both pleased and concerned over the continued popularity of lean practices. I hate waste, so any attempt to remove waste from a given work system makes me feel like we are at least making progress towards this goal. At the same time, my concern comes from knowing that organizations sometimes make things worse, as compared to better, as they try to put leaner systems in place.

Years ago when I was working to implement practices such as quality circles and Total Quality Management, I learned the hard way that management, and in particular front line supervisors, are the key to making such changes stick. If the supervisor of a given work unit did little to support the desired changes, there was a high likelihood that the changes would not stay in place and flourish over time. We, like most companies, often ended up with ‘pockets of excellence' in the organization instead of a well-deployed improvement effort.

Fortunately, I learned from my experiences and began to search for systematic ways to help avoid this type of problem in future implementations. My searching helped me see how management muda was a key cause of such inconsistent applications. That is the nice way of saying that lean hypocrisy was the primary detriment to lean success. As managers, we were asking our front line people to ‘nickel and dime' their processes out to the third decimal point, while we sat back and failed to even measure, let alone trend and analyze, the effectiveness of the processes we were responsible for on a daily basis. We are now seeing lean work its way into the office environment, but I am afraid that there is still too much of a ‘do as I say, not as I do' message being sent each day from the front office.

As managers, we have our own forms of muda, or process waste, that we must work to minimize each day if we are really going to fully support a lean practices implementation. For example, information represents the product that we process each day, and in turn, folders full of obsolete e-mail and desktops covered with stacks of paper represent our work in process inventory. How often have you seen a manager chide his or her people for failing to follow the recommended 5S rules while sitting behind a cluttered desk?

The primary process that managers are responsible for is meetings, be they formal or informal. I don't know of that many front line supervisors that like to attend, let alone set up, regular meetings, but I have known a lot of front office people who relish spending time with one or more of their peers talking about work. They must enjoy doing it, because they seem to be doing it most of the time that they are on the job. Does your company measure the amount of time your managers spend in meetings each day and work to reduce (or better yet optimize) that value over time?

The time we spend in training could be placed into the meeting category as well, since training for managers in particular almost always involves sitting in a room with other people either talking or listening. Instead of expecting each such event to somehow change the systems it is focused on however, we often go in and out of the training room with little fundamental change occurring. We should expect a training event to either give us time to practice to new skills, or provide us with an experience that significantly alters our ways of thinking (and in turn our behaviors), but instead, we often fail to measure training effectiveness beyond the low value use of ‘smile sheets' at the end of the event.

From my perspective, taking time in a group to share information that we could have individually read prior to attending is process waste. Groups should be used to share perspectives and develop improved ways of thinking – instead, we often use them to ‘make sure' that everyone gets the same message. Unfortunately, we can't make people think or act differently simply by asking or telling them to. If we could, millions of dollars could be saved each day just by asking that person or two that always seems to ramble on or take the group off on a tangent to stop doing it.

We even have a commercial now that pokes fun at all of the reports and plans we create as managers. How much time and money could we save by eliminating the creation of that two inch thick notebook that works great for keeping all of books straight on our shelf, but ends up defeating that organizational advantage by the dust it collects over time? I have more than once in my career intentionally left someone off of a report distribution just to see if they missed getting the monthly information or not. This form of management muda might be easier to live with if I didn't also know that there was probably a lot of rework behind the creation of the document – would you do this in a twelve point font instead of in eleven point, and while you are at it, move the picture on page three from the upper left corner to the bottom right? I think it looks better there.

If we are not sitting in our offices or a meeting room, we managers are out walking around. While I strongly support this use of management time over sitting in a room listening to someone read me a memo, I also am aware of the potential hypocrisy that could emanate from this practice. How fast do your managers walk? Have you ever been reprimanded for not walking fast enough? Have you established travel time standards for each key destination in your organization? That might sound silly, but think about – we measure our front line employees to that degree to help save money, and we make more per hour than they do.

My definition of work is simple – people spending time and money to make money. In high performing companies, the customer, be they internal or external, determines how time and money is spent each day. This goal is accomplished by designing each key process towards this goal. Each key process is measured consistently and trended over time to gauge performance. Process refinements are expected to occur on at least an annual basis, if not more often. Most importantly, such distinctions are not made between management processes and front line processes. Each person in the company is expected to improve those key processes they are responsible for.

It is possible that we are doing more damage than good to our work cultures by expecting some people to take every second and cent of waste out of their daily work while others seem to be allowed to let waste flourish. If we really want to make progress as a lean organization, we as leaders need to set the example of where we want to go instead of consistently providing reminders of where we have been. Many of us have experienced a lot of success in making our front line processes leaner. Isn't it time we looked in the mirror and made sure that we've dropped a few pounds ourselves?.

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