The three flavors of operational waste and the innovative technology that solves them

Every organization, regardless of size struggles to achieve seamless, efficient IT service delivery without investing huge amounts of time or money. Many IT organizations have adopted Lean Thinking, Toyota’s philosophy of streamlining operations and improving quality by eliminating all types of operational waste. But in order to remove waste, you must first recognize it. That’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly in your own organization.

Whether you are new to Lean concepts or a seasoned veteran, understanding the three flavors of waste can help make your IT organization more efficient. And with the advent of software defined infrastructure (SDI), you now have an innovative tool at your disposal to make your Lean ambitions a very profitable reality.

3 Flavors of Waste and How to Spot Them

According to Lean Thinking principles, waste can be divided into three broad categories known as the 3 M’s.

  1. Muda

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, muda can be defined as any activity that consumes resources while producing no value to the customer. Within this major waste category lie two important sub types.

  • Type 1 Muda. Steps within your value chain that don’t bring any significant business value to your customers, but are unavoidable in your current configuration. Perhaps they enable other steps that do bring concrete value or maybe other value steps would be less effective without them.
  • Type 2 Muda. These steps bring no appreciable value at all and can be eliminated immediately with little or no effect on the deliverable product or service.

An inspection process might be an example of Type 1 muda. After an administrator assembles a private cloud instance by hand, QA must inspect it to make sure it meets specifications and all features work as required. But if we could guarantee that every instance was identical, inspections would no longer be necessary, but no changes can be made until the entire process is redesigned.

Type 2 muda, on the other hand, can be eliminated right away. Using our same private cloud example, an IT administrator might install the operating system, after which he passes it to an applications specialist to install MS Office. If the specialist happens to be out sick, the customers have to wait until she returns before they can start using their cloud. But if we trained our IT admin to install both the OS and the office suite, we could eliminate the bottleneck today.

  1. Muri

Muri is the Japanese word for overburden. When we place unreasonably high workloads on people or even machines, the ensuing stress produces costly mistakes, breakage, outages, and decreased morale.

Almost every large IT department sufferers from muri. Delivering technology resources and services requires more people than most CIOs are allowed to hire. Likewise, every item on an administrator’s to-do list requires intricate technical know-how and the ability to think in multiple levels of abstraction. Every possible data flow branch must be accounted for to ensure that requirements are covered, compliance rules are met, and sensitive company data remains secure. The more technical the task, the longer it takes to ensure quality work. In the meantime, the backlog continues to grow.

It’s no wonder IT sometimes takes months to install a new server instance. The jobs are too complicated to work any faster. IT burnout, while regrettable, is completely understandable.

  1. Mura

ITSM would be a lot easier if demand for service came at a nice, even pace. Unfortunately, mura, the waste of unevenness, forces us into chaotic flurries of hyperactivity one week and hardly any the next. Internal clients have their busy seasons which almost always result in more service requests than IT is prepared to handle.

Fluctuating demand brings a host of unpleasant side effects such as rework, unpredictable quality, cost overruns, missed deadlines, and ultimately dissatisfied customers. Some Lean proponents combat mura with statistical models to smooth out the peaks and valleys of demand with elevated work levels during slower periods. However, these mathematical models seldom succeed in the real world. Our customers want what they want when they want it, and each problem they encounter bears little resemblance to anything we’ve seen before.

Because we have no control over demand for IT services, it would appear that we have no good answer for this or any of the 3M’s that hinder our Lean goals. But help is coming in the form of an innovative automation technique.

Software-Defined Infrastructure — The Answer to the 3 M’s

Software-defined infrastructure transforms IT delivery by offering compute assets as a virtualized service. Technical professionals create smart templates that produce IaaS instances, then publish a menu of infrastructure options for lines of business (LOB) managers to choose from. Rather than wait months for an administrator to manually provision new infrastructure, the entire server instance is produced as a virtualized cloud service in a matter of minutes.

SDI overcomes muda by relieving IT departments from having to inspect every IaaS instance created. Because the technical specifications live in a template, human error is removed from the equation, so the same level of quality is produced every time. This reduces the muda of defects and wait time.

Muri is no longer an issue with SDI because administrators no longer have to produce networked assets by hand. They merely program the requested features one time and a powerful template engine produces identical server instances on demand. No further technical input is required. This frees up highly trained administrators to work on new initiatives rather than the tedious job of resource provisioning.

Agility has always been the best response to mura, the waste of unevenness. And with SDI, corporate technology leaders have the most effective answer possible to the random walk of IT demand. When LOB managers need new cloud infrastructure, tools like StrataCloud SDI Install create them in a matter of minutes, allowing firms to take advantage of fleeting market opportunities long before their competitors.


Ever since Lean Thinking emerged from the shop floor of Toyota some sixty years ago, the 3 M’s of waste have plagued modern value streams. IT has been particularly vulnerable because the nature of their work is so technical and time-consuming. By recognizing these flavors of Lean waste, IT leaders can use SDI to produce consistently high quality IT infrastructure on demand whenever the business needs it.