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Bruce Hamilton

Quality Insider


Muri happens when the team hears conflicting directions from infallible authorities

Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 11:59

Sometimes we receive unreasonable and confusing directions, and sometimes we give them.

As in the short video clip below, even if the systems behind this confusion are sound and the motivations reasonable, when you put them together they can create a frustrating no-win situation:

Here are a few examples from my recent experience:

At an aerospace manufacturer, I followed a team of engineers to the factory floor to observe a defect caused by what they all thought was an assembly mistake. When we arrived at the assembly workstation, the team member was ready for us. Holding an assembly drawing in one hand and a fixture instruction in the other, he asked us, “Which one of these do you want me to use?” A closer examination of the two documents revealed conflicting directions. The team member continued, “If I follow the assembly drawing to the letter, the part won’t fit the fixture, but if I follow the fixture instruction exactly, the final dimensions for the part are out of spec, so I have to compromise the assembly instruction in order to make the part.” Each assembly document came from a different department, and each department was adamant that its document was correct.

At a small industrial distributor, a sales-order department associate pointed to the wall behind her desk. “All of these notes and schedules above my computer represent special deals that we have struck with particular customers,” she said. “It’s hard enough to remember all of them, but sometimes I have conflicting discount offers. I may choose the wrong one, or maybe I’m supposed to combine them, but that could add up to an 80-percent discount in some cases.” Unfortunately, the conflicting instructions often resulted in customer complaints, change orders, and credits involving multiple departments.

On a broader scale, managers often grapple with conflicting goals and measures. For example, a machine shop manager whose efforts to reduce setup times and run smaller batches finds that his improvement efforts are rewarded with a low machine utilization score. As Edward’s Deming put it, “You can’t sharpen the blade while the saw is running.”

I believe this can be called muri: mental strain caused by insufficient or conflicting information. Most often this kind of muri is internal to the organization and inadvertent because it comes from multiple authorities, each of whom feels they are doing the right thing.

Do you have examples of unreasonableness in your organization you can share? What are effective countermeasures to this kind of mental muri?


About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.


Great Article

Bruce great points.  I have seen many examples similar to yours where there are conflicting requirements and the worker or manager as the case may be is forced to choose.  

I have also seen cases where the management metrics corporate has given to a satellite office are vague allowing the office to "interpret" the metrics to their benefit.  Example:  A claims processing office was given a goal to improve the cycle time of claims.  Claims cycle time was measured from the time the claim was input into the system until the time it was completed and approved.  To get clear data on improvement, management said it will measure the improvements only on new claims.  One regional office changed the start dates on all claims in progress to the date the management directive came out, thus showing a dramatic improvement in claims processing time.