Saw-Muri Warriors

I was joining a manager on a walk through his plant some time back when we came upon an automatic cut-off saw that was cutting twelve foot brass bars into four foot lengths.  The bed of the saw was about four feet high, just below chest height for me, but just above chest height for the employee who was tending and unloading the saw.  I stopped for a second to watch as the saw operator lifted the bars from the out-chute of the saw into a wooden crate which sat on the floor.  He was struggling.  There was a grimace on his face as he bent down repeatedly to place the bars in the crate.  I commented to the manager, “Boy, there’s a lot of bending there.”   The manager replied, “No, that’s inch and three-quarter hex. It won’t bend.” 

In fairness I must add that after the words left his mouth, the manager corrected himself.  The point is, he had walked by this horribly designed process every day and failed to recognize the strain, Muri, as it is called in the lean world. (In this blog I’m focusing only on human Muri.  I’ll cover machines in a later blog.)  

At this factory, the manager became a Saw-Muri warrior.  He was now sensitized to a common but invisible productivity and morale killer.  Too often however, managers don’t see Muri.  They put a person in a stressful job, and he will occasionally have to rest.  This is sometimes referred to by those managers who can’t see Muri as “dogging it.”  

Another example:  Standing with a management team from a large manufacturer on a receiving dock at a distribution center, we watched a truck being unloaded.  The worker meticulously checked and double-checked part counts against the manifest as the freight was loaded onto the dock.  One senior manager who was standing near to the worker audibly remarked to our group, “This is what happens when we pay by the hour” (dogging it).  The worker then turned to the manager and retorted, “No, this is happening now because last week I got my a&%^ reamed by my supervisor for miscounting.”   Mental Muri.

Not all Muri is physical.   Often, work conditions will cause mental Muri:  concern and anxiety arising from confusion or fear.  In this case the manager amplified the mental Muri.  The worker’s retort however (with a little reinforcement from me) helped this manager to also become a Saw-Muri warrior.  We learn from our mistakes.

My own experience with Muri arose out of an offer made to me many years ago to push the conveyance cart for a final assembly production cell.  At that time I was the V.P. of Manufacturing.  I recall that the takt time was about three minutes and material pick-up/drop-off was every twelve minutes.   Some care had been given to standardize the conveyance route so that the task could “easily” be accomplished in the allotted time.  However, the material handler occasionally fell behind and argued that the job was too stressful. 

You push the cart,” he said, “and you’ll see what I mean.”  “Okay”, I said, “I’ll push the cart tomorrow.”  “Oh no, not just for a day,” he replied, “for a whole week!”  And I agreed to do it.

 By the end of the first day pushing the cart, I had become a Saw-Muri warrior.   A few things I discovered: 

  • The conveyance route had too many ripraps, making it hard to turn the cart.  My wrists and shoulders ached from hefting the cart around tight corners.
  • The cart was too low.  I had to hunch over to push it.  My back hurt too.
  • One of the wheels on the cart wobbled (like the ones frequently encountered on supermarket shopping carts) causing part containers on the cart to occasionally spill.  I had to slow down to prevent this, particularly when I hit ruts in the floor.  When I slowed down, I didn’t hit takt time.  Mental Muri.
  • By the way, I had to rest periodically.  I guess I was “dogging it”. 

These are just a few lessons learned about Muri from pushing the conveyance cart.  There were small problems occurring with nearly every step I took which had been previously invisible to me.  Today when I visit a workplace I try to keep my Muri radar on. 

Here are a couple pointers on Muri from my associates at GBMP:

One of my team at GBMP, Pat Wardwell, advises that to gain employee participation, always look for the Muri first:  Help with problems that are in employees’ faces to get continuous improvement off to a good start.   

Another GBMP team member, Lesa Nichols, offers a good trick to identify employee Muri:  Look at the facial expression of the employee who is doing the job. Frowning, squinting and a furrowed brow are sure signs of Muri.   Also, listen for sighs and grunts. These are cries for help. 

Are you a Saw-Muri warrior?   Share an experience for our readers. 

O.L.D

5 thoughts on “Saw-Muri Warriors

  1. I’ve got two good ones from the greenhouse industry. I was renting shop space from a greenhouse that also grew hardy mums in a field. I watched a little old lady employee bending over putting slow release fertilizer in each pot using a measuring spoon. The next morning I gave her a wire hook to carry the bucket down low, while standing up straight. I had welded a long handle on the spoon too. The owner told me that was a nice gesture, but she had done this work this way for many years it didn’t bother her. The next morning she came to my shop before going to work, and gave us two fresh baked apple pies. Yep she wasn’t bothered by it!

    At another greenhouse four women were planting bulbs in pots on a conveyor line. The bulbs were sitting on top of a stack of wooden boxes next to each woman. They twisted to the side to get the bulbs then reached over the conveyor to put them in the pots. I convinced the owner to let me rearrange the line during lunch. I moved all four women to the same side of the conveyor. We put a piece of sloped plywood on the other side to hold a box of bulbs. We moved the line of pots close to the edge of the conveyor near the women. Bulbs rolled down the box to their hands and the motion was just a short reach and plant. The next day when I visited the owner grabbed by arm and directed me into the office. He said “Don’t say anything to those women about the changes you made. They are going twice as fast and if they find out they will want more money!” I stepped outside and watched them work for a minute. One of the women spoke up and said “Boy are we glad you changed this line around. For the first time in ten years we don’t go home with a backache!” Is that a win win or what?

  2. Pingback: Dwellays « Old Lean Dude

  3. Pingback: A Salesman’s Gemba « Old Lean Dude

  4. Pingback: Mistake-Proofing Mistakes | Old Lean Dude

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s