What Is Your Takt Time?

If you are the “lean manufacturing expert” you probably know. But what answer do you get if you ask the question in the work area?

Here is a quick diagnostic for you: Go to the shop floor and ask a supervisor, “What is your takt time?”

A reply of “Huh?” is pretty self-explanatory. Either the entire concept hasn’t reached this area yet, or if it has, the day to day variation and disruption renders the concept moot. A couple of follow-up questions can quickly discriminate.

A common reply is the daily output number (e.g. “14 units a day”). Although this shows understanding of a daily production requirement, “14 units a day” does not necessarily translate to “7 units before lunch” much less “a unit every 30 minutes.” This Team Member is still thinking in terms of total output, even if every unit has to be reworked in the last hour of the day. Obviously this is better than reworking every unit in the last week of the month though.

I have also had Team Members do the calculation in their head. They know how to calculate takt time, but don’t use it. This is pretty common when takt time is something that is only a factor during formal kaizen “events” that are run by someone other than the supervisor. I would imagine that standard work is also something that is a “kaizen event thing” rather than daily management as well.

Ideally though, anyone on your shop floor has the takt time embedded in their thinking. If the immediate reply is “28 minutes” then the follow-up question is “how are you doing?” At this point, you can begin exploring how well they use the takt time to manage variation and problems.

What is your takt time?

Getting A Plant Tour

A couple of days ago I wrote about how to host a tour. Here are some thoughts on how to get one. As always, I’d love to hear your comments and experiences.

Don’t expect your hosts to change your “cement heads.” I have had requests from groups who wanted to send their “resistant managers” to our factory so we can show them things that will change their minds. Doesn’t work. Sorry, that is your job. My experience is that people who don’t want to see the benefits will always find all of the things that are “unique” about their circumstance, and special case reasons why the other place is doing so much better.

Go to learn, not to look. In my last post I made reference to “industrial tourists.” Those are groups that are more interested in the layout and clever gizmos than in the thinking behind them. They are, at best, looking for ideas and technical solutions to their problems. Copying others’ solutions is not thinking.

Going to learn is a different attitude. When you look at a layout, or other technical solution, ask yourself this: “What problem does that solve?” How does it save time? How does it remove variation from the process? What did the operation look like before they did that? Force yourself to think in four dimensions. Not just what you see now, but what it would have looked like in the past. WHY did they do this?

Although many people think lean manufacturing is counter-intuitive, I think that with this line of thinking you will find it actually is just common-sense solutions to the problems that everyone has, every day.

Nobody is perfect. Even a Toyota plant has obvious issues. If you end up fault-finding, you will miss the good stuff. I was touring a Toyota plant with a group a couple of years ago and it had obviously slipped. This is old news, and one of the reasons for their internal back-to-basics approach. But two things came to light: The rich visual controls made it easy for total strangers on the 1 hour tour to SEE the difference between “what should be” and “what is.” Wow. Try that in YOUR factory. And, reading the news stories, it was a problem they were taking very seriously and doing something about it vs. not noticing the deterioration and just letting things go.

Every plant has issues. Some have great material flow and pull systems, but only average problem solving. Others have a great technical base for home-grown tools, fixtures and machines. A few have great problem solving (They seem to be doing better than others.) Take in what is working, and what is holding them back. What would be the next problem they are working on?

Pay attention to the people. People are the system. How do they interact with the physical artifacts (layout, machines, etc.) An operation that has their stuff together will have people who are obviously comfortable with the pace of work. It will be obvious they get support when there are problems.

Don’t ask too many questions. What? Aren’t you there to learn? Yes. But try to learn with your eyes first. Even if you are moving, “stand in the chalk circle” and see the problems and the solutions. Sharpen your observation skills before you take the tour. Practice in your own plant. When I am hosting visitors and we have the time, my response to a question is to show them where to look for their answer, then ask them what they saw.

If allowed, make sketches. Most operations will have a prohibition against photographs. Even if they allow photos, however, you will capture much more if you stand and sketch what you see. You don’t have to produce a work of art. The purpose is to force your eye to pay attention to the small details. You will see much more through the eyes of the artist than you will through a camera.

Remember they are in the business of production, not consulting.
“Be a good guest” and remember that everybody there has a real job.

Edit 5 Sept: And Jon Miller correctly pointed out something I missed:

Give Back. You will bring “fresh eyes” to their environment and see things they do not. Everyone suffers from a degree of blindness to the familiar. If you are really going to see and learn, you will gain insights that can help your hosts in their own improvements. Ask them the questions that will help them see what you see.

Giving A Plant Tour

When one of my operations at “a previous company” started to really show some results, they began to get a lot of requests for tours from other groups. Obviously they are not in the business of giving tours, and these requests were beginning to impact on their time. Here are some guidelines I gave them based on my experience at the previous, previous company. 😉

Separate the groups who are really interested in learning from the “industrial tourists.” This is easy to do. At the first email or phone contact simply ask them “What do you want to learn about?” People who are serious about learning will have something specific. If they say “Everything” you probably have industrial tourists – a group that wants to see, but not study.

Develop a standard 1 hour tour with a script and teach all of your supervisors to give it. When industrial tourists show up, give them the 1 hour tour send them on their way, and they will leave happy and excited.

What about the others? The ones who aren’t industrial tourists?

Turn them over to your very best kaizen leader. Spend as much time with them as you possibly can. Customize the time to meet their learning objectives. Confirm what you plan to do with them, and verify that is likely to work for them. While they are there, check continuously. Make sure all of their questions are answered, even the ones you had wished they didn’t ask. Better yet, show them what chalk circle to stand in so they can see the answers for themselves.

Why do all of this? Because these are people who are trying to learn, just like you. Your leaders have everything to gain through interacting with a truly curious group. They will ask questions you haven’t thought of. They will see things that, due to your daily familiarity, you have overlooked. And most importantly, you will work to build the community and extend the spirit of learning to one more organization.

Hopefully they will remember the experience and do the same thing when someone asks to come and study them.

Standards Protect the Team Members

One of my kaizen-specialists-in-training just came to me asking for help. The Team Members he is working with are not seeing the need to understand sources of work variation.

I hear that a lot, both in companies I have worked in and in the online forums. Everyone seems to think it is a problem in their company, their culture – that they are unique with this problem.

The idea of a unique problem is variation on the “our process / environment / product is different so ____ won’t work here.” Someday I will make a list of the standard management “reasons why not” but that isn’t the topic of this post.

I told him:

  1. This is not unique to China, or to this facility. The same resistance a always comes up, and nearly always comes up the same way once the Team Members begin to realize we are serious.
  2. There is no way to just change people’s minds all at once.

Here is something to explain to the concerned Team Members: The standard process is there to protect the team member. If there is a problem, and the standard process was followed, then the only focus for investigation can be where the process itself broke down. Countermeasures are focused on improving the strength of the process.

If, on the other hand, the process was not followed (or if there is no process), then the team member is vulnerable. Instead of the “Five Why’s” the investigation usually starts with the “Five Who’s” – who did it? Countermeasures focus on the individual who happened to be doing the work when the process failure occurred.

As you introduce the concept of standard work into an area that is not used to it, it is probably futile to try to tighten down everything at once. The good news is that you really don’t have to.

Start with the key things that must be done a certain way to preserve safety and quality. If they are explained well and mistake-proofed well, there is usually little disagreement that these things are important.

The next step is to make it clear that the above are totally mandatory. If anything gets in the way of doing those operations exactly as specified, then STOP. Do not just work around the problem, because doing so makes you (the Team Member) vulnerable to the Five Who’s inquisition.

If you focus here for a while, you will start to get more consistent execution leading to more consistent output, which is what you want anyway.

Then start looking at consistent delivery and all of a sudden the concept of variation in time comes into play. Why was this late? The welder ran out of wire, I had to go get some more, I couldn’t find the guy with the key to the locker…… Go work on that. At each step you must establish that the point of all of this is to build a system that responds to the needs of the people doing the work.

The 3 Elements of “Safety First”

When we talk about safety, most people consider the context of accidents and injuries. But if we are to achieve a true continuous improvement environment, where everyone fully participates, we have to consider more.

A good way to sum it up is with three elements that all start with ‘P.’

1) Physical Safety

This is what most people think of when we say “safety is the most important thing.” But, aside from the moral, legal and financial imperatives, what are some other reasons why physical safety is important?

Simple. We want our Team Members 100% engaged in performing their work and improving it. We do not want any of their precious mental bandwidth consumed by worrying about whether or not they will get hurt.

This is a far cry from the “blame the victim” approach I have seen. Root Cause of Accident: Team Member failed to pay attention. Countermeasure: Team Member given written warning.”

A few years ago I was painting my house. I will tell you right now that I am not fond of ladders. (Go figure, I spent three years in the 82nd Airborne, you’d think I would be over it.) There I was up near the top of an extension ladder painting the eaves of the roof. I can tell you that I was paying a lot more attention to staying on the ladder than to where the paint was going. The quality of the job suffered, for sure.

The truth is that a physically safe environment is more, not less, productive. Ergonomically bad motions take more time than good ones. Well designed fail-safe’s and guards prevent quality issues and rework. An even, sustainable pace of work reduces disruptions upstream and downstream. Good lighting lets people catch quality issues and mistakes sooner. Reduced noise levels foster communication. High noise isolates people in invisible bubbles.

2) Psychological Safety

Can your Team Members freely share problems and ideas free of concern for ridicule or rejection by their co-workers? Or is it safer for them to keep to themselves? Do you know who the natural leaders are? Do you know who the influencers are? Do you know who the bullies are? Do you know which line leaders people are afraid of? Which co-workers? Don’t kid yourself, it is only the truly exceptional team that does not have these issues. And most teams that move past these issues become truly exceptional. It is something called “trust” but that is just another way of saying “feeling safe being vulnerable.”

3) Professional Safety

This is a deceptively simple concept. The Team Member is not put in fear (real or implied) of losing his job for doing what is expected of him. That sounds so simple. The really obvious example is the Team Member being asked to contribute to saving cycle time (and therefore, labor) when he knows unnecessary people lose their jobs. But it goes further.

How often do we expect, by implication, people to short-cut The Rules in order to get something done more quickly? Sidney Dekker has authored a number of books and publications focusing on human error as the cause of accidents. One of his key points is that within any organization there are The Rules, and a slightly (sometimes greatly) lower standard of the norms – the way people routinely do things. The norms are established by the day-to-day interactions and the real and implied expectations placed on people to get the job done.

Well meaning Team Members, just trying to meet the real or perceived pressures of everyday work take shortcuts. They do it because they feel they must in order to avoid some kind of negative consequence.

At this point you can hopefully see that these three elements blur together. The work environment and culture play as much a part in a safe work place as the machine guards and safety glasses.

All of these things, together, set the tone for the other things you say are “important” such as following the quality checks (when there is no time built in to the work cycle to do so), and calling out problems (when halting the line means everybody has to work overtime).

One more point – everything that applies to safety also applies to quality. The causes of problems in both are the same, as are the preventions and countermeasures. Do you use the same problem solving approach in both contexts? More about simplifying your standards sometime in the future.

Hidden Negative Consequences

“Stop the line if there is a problem” is a common mantra of lean manufacturing. But it is harder than first imagined to actually implement.

The management mindset that “production must continue, no matter what” is usually the first obstacle. But even when that is overcome, I have seen two independent cases where peer social pressure between the workers discouraged anyone from signaling a problem. The result was that only problems that could not be ignored would come to anyone’s attention – exactly the opposite of the intention.

Both of these operations had calculated takt time using every available minute in the day. (Shift Length – Breaks etc.) Further, they had a fairly primitive implementation of andon and escalation: The line stop time would usually be tacked onto the end of the shift as overtime. (The alternative, in these instances, is to fall behind on production, and it has to be made up sometime.)

So why were people reluctant to call for help? Peer pressure. Anyone engaging the system was forcing overtime for everyone else.

Countermeasure?

On an automobile line, the initial help call does not stop the line immediately. The Team Leader has a limited time to clear the problem and keep the line from stopping. If the problem is not cleared in time, the problem stops the line, not the person who called attention to it. This is subtle, but important. And it gives everyone an incentive to work fast to understand and clear the problem – especially if they know it takes longer to clear the problem if it escapes down-line and more parts get added on top.

There are a number of ways to organize your problem escalation process, but try to remember that the primary issue is human psychology, not technology.

Be Sure: What Are You Trying To Accomplish?

And how will you know you have accomplished it?

This article on Tech Republic is about defense against a hacker strategy called “Social Engineering” wherein the hacker uses a ruse to gain someone’s trust. The goal (for the hacker) is to leverage human nature and get information or access.

So what does this have to do with lean thinking?

It emphasizes the nature of policies with unintended consequences. I have seen all kinds of environments where a Team Member would suffer negative consequences for doing the very thing required to assure safety, quality, delivery or reduce costs. Never happens in your company, right? The examples in the article are mainly in items (2), (3), and (4).

I especially like (4) where the hacker poses as a person in power and simply intimidates the Team Member into giving him the information he wants. What is the countermeasure?

Strict policies and procedures created to discourage this kind of bullying. If it’s allowed from management, someone engaging in social engineering will be able to employ it.

Think about it. If someone abusing his authority is normal behavior, then your Team Member will not be able to detect this condition something out of the ordinary.

In another context, if a Team Member is routinely told “We’ll fix it in inspection” or to otherwise ignore a defect and allow it to pass on, then he will quickly stop reporting them.

Think through the behavior you want people to exhibit. Then, study (stand in the chalk circle again) and see for yourself what the actual behavior is. If it is different than what you expect or what you want, start asking the 5 Why’s. What people do every day is the norm of your organization. It is the path of least resistance. If you want people to do something different, then you must make the right way the easiest way.

This accomplished by a combination of mistake-proofing, policies and procedures that support people who do the right thing, and continuous two-level checking by leaders to reinforce and encourage.

In Item (2) in the article, the author talks about the “I don’t want to get in trouble” excuse. In his example, there is a negative consequence for reporting a lost or misplaced ID badge, so everyone works to avoid reporting the problem. Perhaps the intent was to have people pay more attention. As Deming said, you must drive out fear, and this isn’t the way to do it.

Remember: The right process will produce the right results. Think:

What results are you trying to accomplish? How will you know you have accomplished them? (How will you check or verify your results?)

The more clear you are on the target condition, the better equipped you are to think through how you will achieve it. When dealing with people, it is easier than you think to build negative consequences for the very thing you want them to do.