By Steve Kane
I spent the this week working from the Gemba Academy studios in Fort Worth, Texas. During my visit the subject of overburdening came up a couple of times:once in discussion with Gemba Academy’s business development manager, Jennifer Scott, and the other time in a discussion with Ron.
Jennifer is fairly new to the Gemba Academy team. As part of her Lean learning she read The Gold Mine by Freddy and Michael Ballé. We discussed many Lean concepts and examples from the book. One area of attention was the three types of waste, namely muda, mura and muri. We talked about the meaning of these terms and the problems they can cause. Muri, or overburdening, was what really resonated with me at the time.
The Ballés describe muri as “the unreasonable work management imposes on workers because of poor organization, such as carrying heavy weight, moving things around, dangerous tasks, etc. It’s pushing a person or a machine beyond its natural limits. Unreasonable work is nearly always a cause of variation. . .”
This is a great explanation. The discussion with Ron triggered the thought of another result of muri.
Ron and I were having a conversation about productivity and continuous improvement. Muri, as explained above, results in unevenness. Unevenness impedes productivity. It also impedes continuous improvement.
Improvement requires, among other things, clearly understanding the situation at hand and devising countermeasures. Both of these are best addressed with a clear mind.
Overburdening causes tunnel vision–intense focus on only what is necessary to survive a crisis. Think about looking through the center of the cardboard core of a paper towel role. Everything in the periphery is obscured.
I shared with Ron a story I heard about a repair to the Hubble Telescope. After the telescope was launched into space, a flaw in the imaging mirror was discovered. The images produced by the scope were not as sharp as expected. It turns out the curve of the mirror was slightly incorrect and a countermeasure would be needed.
This was a very expensive and very high-profile project. All involved were under considerable pressure to fix the problem. As I recall the story from many years ago, a team of engineers struggled for weeks to figure out how to make the Hubble work as intended. No good ideas came to mind.
A Clear Mind
Finally, an engineer came up with the countermeasure while taking his morning shower. He reached up to adjust the shower head when the idea struck him. He had a double-hinged shower head that is used to accommodate people who are taller than the shower’s original plumbing.
His idea was to send a repair crew into space with a double hinged apparatus (like the shower head) holding a lens that could be positioned in front of the mirror like spectacles in front of eyes. This would correct the Hubble’s vision.
One could argue the engineer thought of the idea in the shower because an example of the countermeasure was right in front of him. The story is that the idea came to him in the shower for this reason and because his mind was in a relaxed state at the time.
Being in a relaxed state allows for greater understanding, creativity observing and problem solving. Is this why we do nothing but observe while standing in the Ohno circle?
We need to afford ourselves the time to be creative–time to think. While it may look unproductive from the outside, it could very well be the most productive thing you do all day.
Overburdening chokes the mind and inhibits improvement.