5S With Purpose

The team was driving toward a consistently executed changeover process as a target condition.

In the last iteration, the process was disrupted by a scrapped first-run part. The initial level cause was an oversize bit in the NC router resulting in an out-of-spec trim and oversize holes.

This occurred in spite of the fact that there are standard tools that are supposed to be in standard locations in the tool holders on the back of the work pallet.

Upon investigation, the team found:

  • The previous part had a programming error calling out the oversize tool from the wrong location.
  • All of the operators were aware of this, and routinely replaced the “standard” tool with the one the program required.
  • After that part was run, the standard condition had not been restored.
  • There was likely a break in continuity between operators here, but that was less clear.
  • The two bits are only 1/8 different, and hard to distinguish from one another across the 10 feet or so of the work pallet.

The team addressed the programming error, but among the thousands of other programs out there, they were reasonably certain that there were other cases where the same situation could be set up.

They wanted to ensure that it was very clear when there were non-standard tools in the standard locations.

Their initial approach was to create a large chart that called out which tools were to be in which holders. Their next experiment was to be to put that chart up in the work area.

 

“What do you expect to happen?”

That turned out to be a very powerful question. After a bit of questioning, they implied that the operator was to verify that the correct tools were in the standard positions before proceeding.

“How does this chart help them do that?”

They can see what the standard is.

“Don’t they all already know what the standard is?”

Yes…..

“So how does this chart help them do that?”

Now, to be clear, the conversation was not quite this scripted, but you are getting the idea. The point was to get them to be specific about what they expected the operator to do, and to be specific about how they expected their countermeasure to help the operator do it.

One team member offered up that maybe they could color-code the standard tools and their holders so it would be easy to check and easy to see if something was off-standard. That way, even IF the situation came up where the operator needed to deviate from the standard, anyone could easily see what was happening.

(I should add that they have already put an escalation process into place that should trap, and correct, these programming errors as they come up as well.)

The tools were color-coded over night, and in place the next day.

Color coded tool holders.

This wasn’t a “5S campaign,” nor is there an audit sheet that tries to measure the “level” of visual control in the work space.

Rather, this is using a visual control to visually control something, and reduce the likelihood of another scrapped part (and therefore, disrupted changeover).

Over the last week, the work cell has been improving. When things are flowing as they are supposed to, changeovers are routinely being done within the expected time.

But there are times when their standard WIP goes low; there are times when someone gets called away; when the flow doesn’t go as planned. When those things happen, they get off their standard.

The next countermeasure is to document, clearly, the normal pattern for who works where, for what inventory is where. Then the next question is “How can anyone verify, at a glance, whether or not the flow is running to the normal pattern?”

More visual controls. Ah.

Now we are seeing the reason behind 5S. It will come in to that work area, step by step, as the necessity to make things more clear arises.

“No Question…Sketch!”

One of the more famous tools taught by Chihiro Nakao of Shingijutsu fame is to direct the learner to observe an operation and “sketch the flows.”

Another Time Ideas article by Anne Murphy Paul, How to Increase Your Powers of Observation, validates Nakao’s instinct.

She makes the distinction between casual observation that we all do, and scientific observation.

[…]scientists train their attention, learning to focus on relevant features and disregard those that are less salient. One of the best ways to do this is through the old-fashioned practice of taking field notes: writing descriptions and drawing pictures of what you see. “When you’re sketching something, you have to choose which marks to make on the page,” says Michael Canfield, a Harvard University entomologist[…]  (bold emphasis added)

The common factor here is that, like scientists, we don’t want to simply watch a process, we want to observe it. We want to predict what we think will happen, and then observe to confirm or refute our predictions.

While casual observers simply sit back and watch what unfolds, scientific observers come up with hypotheses that they can test. What happens if a salesperson invites a potential customer to try out a product for herself? How does the tone of the weekly meeting change when it’s held in a different room?

The next time you are in your work area, rather than simply watching, bring a bad and pencil, and sketch out what is happening.

How does the material actually flow through the process? Where does it pause, stop, get diverted?

How to people flow, move into, and out of, the process?

Where does the information come from?

Does the layout support, or get in the way of, smooth flow?

How about the tools, equipment, machines? Do they help the worker get the job done, or make it awkward?

And finally, what actually happens when there is a problem of some kind? How does the team member indicate this? What is the response?

By sketching, you force your eye to see the details that you might have missed. You force yourself to actually see, and might be surprised when that is different from what you assumed was happening.

Sharpen your eye – learn to observe like a scientist.

No question… sketch!

Make a Rule / Keep a Rule

I was driving home today and saw a construction sign on the sidewalk. It read: “Sidewalk Closed, Use Other Side.” Ahead was a section of the sidewalk which was, indeed, closed off and impassible.

By the time a pedestrian encounters this sign, he is well into the middle of a long block.

The sign is at least implying that the pedestrian should cross the street in the middle of the block to get around the construction. The alternatives are:

  • Ignore the sign, and walk on the street around the torn up sidewalk.
  • Backtrack to a legal crosswalk, and cross the street where it is legal to do so.

This situation is actually fairly common in a lot of companies. There is a rule “Don’t cross the street in the middle of the block.” Then there is an expectation that is incompatible with following the rule.

  • “Be careful, but hurry.”
  • “Stop and fix problems, but don’t lose production.”
  • Stop for quality, but make the numbers.”
  • Get 90 minutes of work done in an hour.

The team member has the same alternatives as above – ignore the expectation, or ignore the rule.

This is a slightly higher level than Hirano’s observation that “the words ‘just for now’ are the origin of all waste.” Here we are putting the team member in an untenable situation because there is no action available that is clearly OK.

Take a look at the rules you have. Take a look at the actual behaviors. Remember that what people actually do is generally what they sincerely believe you expect of them.

If it is impossible to follow a rule, consider why the rule exists.

The words “Do the best you can.” are a warning that you are in this kind of situation.

Smooth is Fast

When you are at the gemba, you are watching the work. We like to say you are “looking for waste” and list seven, or eight, or ten different categories of waste that you are supposed to look for.

I think it is simpler than that.

An ideal workflow is smooth.

The product moves smoothly, without starts and stops, without sudden changes in momentum.

The people move smoothly. Each of their motions engages the product and advances the work in some way.

Machines do not interfere with the smooth movement of product or people.

Information flows the same way. There is nothing in how it is stored, retrieved, or presented that causes people to break their smooth rhythm.

When you watch the work, try to visualize what smooth would look like. Smooth has no wasted motions, no excessive activities.

Anything that doesn’t look smooth is likely the result of an accommodation, an awkward operation, poor information presentation, poor computer screen layout and workflow.

Just another way of looking at it.

Steve Spear on Creative Experimentation

On Monday MIT hosted a webinar with Steven Spear on the topic of “Creative Experimentation.”

A key theme woven throughout Spear’s work is the world today is orders of magnitude more complex than it was even 10 or 15 years ago. Where, in the past, it was feasible for a single person or small group to oversee every aspect of a system, today that simply isn’t possible except in trivial cases. Where, in 1965 it was possible for one person to understand every detail of how an automobile worked, today it is not.

My interpretation goes something like this:

Systems are composed of nodes, each acting on inputs and triggering outputs. In the past, most systems were largely linear. The output of upstream nodes was the input of those immediately downstream. You can see this in the Ford Mustang example that Spear discusses in the webinar.

Today nodes are far more interconnected. Cause and effect is not clear. There are feed-back and feed-forward connections and loop-backs. Interactions between processes impact the results as much as the processes themselves.

Traditional management still tries to manage what is inside the nodes. Performance, and problems, come from the interconnections between nodes more than from within them.

The other key point is that traditional management seeks to first define, then develop a system with the goal of eventually reaching a steady state. Today, though, the steady state simply does not exist.

Product development cycles are quickening. Before one product is stable, the next one is launched. There is no plateau anymore in most industries.

From my notes – “The right answer is not the answer for very long. It changes continuously.”

Therefore, it is vital that organizations be able to handle rapid shifts quickly.

With that, here is the recorded webinar.

(Edit: The original flies have been deleted from the MIT server.)

A couple of things struck me as I participated in this.

Acknowledging that Spear has a bias here (as do I), the fact that Toyota’s inherent structure and management system is set up to deal with the world this way is probably one of the greatest advantages ever created by happenstance.

I say that because I don’t believe Toyota ever set out to design a system to manage complexity. It just emerged from necessity.

We have an advantage of being able to study it and try to grasp how it works, but we won’t be able to replicate it by decomposing its pieces and putting it back together.

Like all complex systems, this one works because of the connections, and those connections are ever changing and adapting. You can’t take a snapshot and say “this is it” any more than you can create a static neural net and say you have a brain.

Local Capability

One thing that emerges as critical is developing a local capability for this creative experimentation.

I think, what Spear calls “creative experimentation” is not that different from what Rother calls the “improvement kata.” Rother brings more structure to the process, but they are describing essentially the same thing.

Why is local capability critical? Processes today are too complex to have a single point of influence. One small team cannot see the entire picture. Neither can that small team go from node to node and fix everything. (This is the model that is used in operations that have dedicated staff improvement specialists, and this is why improvements plateau.)

The only way to respond as quickly as change is happening is to have the response system embedded throughout the network.

How do you develop local capability? That is the crux of the problem in most organizations. I was in an online coaching session on Tuesday discussing a similar problem. But, in reality, you develop the capability the way you develop any skill: practice. And this brings us back to the key point in Kata.

Practice goes no good unless you are striving against an ideal standard. It is, therefore, crucial to have a standardized problem solving approach that people are trying to master.

To be clear, after they have mastered it, they earn a license to push the boundaries a bit. But I am referring to true mastery here, not simple proficiency. My advice is  to focus on establishing the standard. That is difficult enough.

An Example: Decoding Mary – Find the Bright Spots

Spear’s story of “Decoding Mary” where the re-admission rate of patients to a hospital directly correlated with the particular nurse handled their transfer reminded me of Heath & Heath’s stories from Switch. One of the nine levers for change that they cite is “find the bright spots.”

In this case the creative experimentation was the process of trying to figure out exactly what Mary did differently so it could be codified and replicated for a more consistent result independent of who did it.

The key, in both of these cases, is to find success and study it, trying to capture what is different – and capture it in a way that can be easily replicated. That is exactly what happened here.

A lot of organizations do this backwards. They study what (or who) is not performing to determine what is wrong.

Sometimes it is far easier to try to extract the essence what works. Where are your bright spots for superb quality? Does one shift, or one crew, perform better than the others? Do you even know? It took some real digging to reveal that “Mary” was even the correlating factor here.

Continuous Improvement Means Continuous Change

Since “continuous improvement” really means “continuously improving the capability of your people,” now perhaps we have “to do what.” I have said (and still say) that the “what” is problem solving.

What you get for that, though, is a deep capability to deal with accelerating change at an accelerating rate without losing your orientation or balance.

It is the means to allow the pieces of the organization to continue to operate in harmony while everything is changing. That brings us back to another dilemma: What is the ROI on learning to become very, very good? You don’t know what the future is going to throw at you, only that you need the capability to deal with it at an ever quicker pace.

But none of this works unless you make a concerted effort to get good at it.

Here is the original link to the MIT page with the video, and a download link for PDFs of the slides:

http://sdm.mit.edu/news/news_articles/webinar_010912/webinar-spear-complex-operating-systems.html

Mike Rother: Time to Retire the Wedge

Note – this post was written pretty much simultaneously with a post on the lean.org forum.

Mike Rother has put up a compelling presentation that highlights a long-standing misunderstanding about the purpose of “standards.”

[slideshare id=9312458&doc=retirethepdcawedge-091711-mr-110918191213-phpapp01]

Some time ago, a (well-meaning) author or consultant constructed a graphic that shows the PDCA wheel rolling up the incline of improvement. There is a wedge labeled “Standards” shoved as a chock block under the wheel to keep it from rolling back. That graphic has been copied many times over the years, and shows up in nearly every presentation about PDCA or standard work.

The implication – at least as interpreted by most – is that a process is changed for the better, a new standard is created, and people are expected to follow the standard to “hold the gains” while they work on rolling the PDCA wheel up to the next level on the ramp.

Slide 6 (taken from the book Toyota Kata) shows the underlying assumptions that are implied by this approach, especially when it doesn’t work.

There are some interesting assumptions embedded in the “wedge thinking.”

The first one is that “the standard can be ‘held’ by the people doing the work.

That, in turn, means that if when things start to deteriorate, the workers and first line leaders are somehow responsible for the “slippage” or “not supporting the changes.”

With this attitude, we hear things like “Our workers aren’t disciplined enough” or “How do I make them follow the standard?” The logical countermeasures are those associated with compliance – audits focused on compliance, and sometimes even escalating punitive actions.

Back in my early days, I had a shop floor team member call us on it quite well: “How can you expect us to hold some kind of standard work if the parts don’t fit?” (or aren’t here, or the tools don’t work, or jigs are misaligned, or the machine isn’t running right, or someone is absent, or we are being told to hurry and just get stuff out the door?)

This is the approach of control. The standard is fixed until we decide to change it.

Taiichi Ohno didn’t teach it this way.

Neither did Deming or Juran. Neither did Goldratt. Nor does Six Sigma, TQM, TPM.

Indeed, if we want creativity to be focused on improvements, we have to look up the incline, not back.

We are putting “standards” on the wrong side of the wheel. Rother’s presentation gets it right – the “standards” are the target – what we are striving to achieve.

The purpose of standards is to compare what we actually do against what we wanted to do so we know when they are different and so we have some idea what stopped us from getting there.

Then we have to swarm the problem, and remove the barrier. Try it again, and learn what stops us the next time.

The old model shows “standards” as a countermeasure to prevent backsliding, when in reality, standards are a test to see if our true countermeasures are working.

I believe this model of “standards” as something for compliance is a cancer that is holding us back in our quest to establish a new level of understanding around what “continuous improvement” really means.

It is time to actively refute the model.

If you own your corporate training materials, find that slide (it is in there somewhere) and change it.

If you see this model in a presentation, challenge it. Ask what should happen if something gets in the way of meeting this “standard.”

“What, exactly do you expect the team member to do?”  That sparks an interesting conversation which reveals quite a bit.

“TWiT Live” Walkthrough of Ford’s Rouge Plant

Tom sent this link to me, and I thought I would share it.

I can’t say much for the correspondent, but this is a decent view of a modern automobile assembly line.

The actual tour starts at around the 6:00 point.

When I look at a production line, one of the key things I am looking for is how they detect and respond to problems – both the mechanics and the strength of the problem solving culture.

I am curious to hear from any of my readers from Ford (I know you are out there).

5S Audits – Part III

I would like to thank everybody for a really engaging dialog in the previous two posts about 5S audits.

Now I would like to dig in and look at what an “audit” is actually finding, and how we are responding to those issues.

Our hypothetical production area is getting an audit. The checklist says things like “There are no unnecessary items in the work area” and “There is a location indicated for all items.”

If there are unnecessary things in the work area, or things are not in their designated locations, what happens?

Of course, the checklist is filled out and a score is assigned.

But what has been learned about the process?

In one of the comments, I asked something like “When was the problem first noticed?”

The core purpose of 5S is to establish a testable condition that asks the question: “Does the team member have everything he needs, and nothing he doesn’t, where he needs it, when he needs it, to carry out his process as we understand it?”

One of the primary purposes of marking out the locations is to indicate the standard so that someone can notice right away that the standard has been broken. What should happen right then and there?

Since we define a “problem” as “any departure from the standard or specification,” and we have taken the first step of removing ambiguity from the situation (by deciding what should be here, and marking it out), we want an immediate response to the problem.

Ideally this means that the team member would indicate trouble (andon call, or other means) as soon as he discovered that his air gun was missing, or didn’t work.

The back-up to this is the team leader’s standard work. His eyes should be scanning for situations where there is a problem that the team member hasn’t called out. This is why the standards are marked out, posted, etc. To make this job easy for him. His immediate response would be to (1) Seek to understand the situation – what pulled the team member off his standard work, where did the problem originate, (2) Correct the situation. Sometimes that’s it. Other times, there is another problem to dig into.

It could be that something about the work process or conditions has changed and the team member is improvising a bit. That would bring extra stuff into the area, for example. I recall a great example where we pulled all of the thread cutting tools out of assembly so we could better detect when assembly was getting defective fabricated parts. It worked by forcing the process to stop and an andon call since assembly could not proceed if the threads were not cut.

At the same time, if a thread cutter found its way back into the assembly area, we would know we had two problems. First, we had defective parts. But more important, the process of telling us about that problem had been bypassed.

The back-up to the team leader’s standard work is the supervisor’s standard work. She is looking two levels down, but her response is going to be different. Unless safety or quality is jeopardized, the supervisor is going to find the team leader and (1) Seek to understand what pulled the team leader off of his standard work, and (2) correct the situation.

If the next level up is spending any time at all out on the shop floor, it is the same thing – maybe once a day – seeking out verifiable evidence that things are working as they should be. In the lack of positive evidence of control, we must assume there are hidden problems.

Now, if the audit finds something like this (click on the image for a bigger one):

Then it isn’t about the tape being out of place, nor is it a question about where the screwdriver is. What we have discovered is that none of the checks have been made, or if they have, no one has done anything about them.

Someone said “If we don’t do audits then 5S deteriorates.” OK – but why does 5S deteriorate?

Simply put, it is going to deteriorate, just as your process does, a little bit every day. Disorder is always being injected into everything. Your process will never, ever be stable on its own. No matter how good you are, the next level of granularity will show up as deterioration.

This is the “chatter” that Steven Spear talks about.

The question comes down to your core intention for the audit.

If you are assessing how well the area manager is coaching and teaching his people to see and respond to problems so that you can establish a target condition for his learning, and then develop his capabilities accordingly… there are better ways (in my opinion) to do that.

If you are assigning a numeric score in the hope that, by measuring something you can influence behavior, it might work, but people can come up with ingeniously destructive ways to achieve the numeric goals. As a thought experiment – how might an area manager get a high score on his 5S audit in ways that run completely counter to the goals of 5S, people development or “lean?”

The bottom line is that “Audit 5S” is not something that you should accept as a given. Rather, it is a proposed countermeasure to some problem. But if you start with a clear problem statement like “Team members are bringing thread taps into the assembly line,” and start asking “Why” five times, get to a root cause to that problem, you are unlikely to arrive at a monthly or periodic 5S audit as a countermeasure – nor are you ever going to need one.

The problem?

I think we feel the need to do audits because we have no process to immediately detect, correct and solve the little problems that happen every day. These little issues are the ones that cause the 5S erosion. Because we don’t have a process to deal with them one-by-one, we have to have an elaborate process that disrupts our normal work flow and takes them on in big batches.

Does that sound like a “lean” process to you?

How might we relentlessly drive the “audit” process closer to the ideal of one-by-one confirmation?

That would be “lean thinking.”

 

 

Problems Hidden In The Open

We were down on the shop floor watching an assembly operation. The takt time was on the order of three hours. The assembler was new to the task, and the team leader periodically came by and asked if he was “doing OK.” The reply was always in the affirmative.

As the takt time wound down to under five minutes to completion, this operation was the only one not reporting “Done.”

The count down hit zero, things went red, the main line stopped, and the line stop time started ticking up.

The team leader, other assemblers, the supervisor began pitching in to assist. Between them, the job was completed in about 10 minutes, and the line restarted.

So, again, my favorite question:

What’s the problem?

Lets try breaking it down to four key questions.

  1. “What should be happening?”
  2. “What is actually happening?”
  3. The above two questions define the gap.

  4. Why does the gap exist?”
  5. “What are we doing about it?”

These questions simply re-frame PDCA, but without so much abstraction.

So, in this situation:

What should be happening?
Two things come to mind immediately.

  1. The work should be complete on time.
  2. As soon as you know it isn’t going to be complete on time, please tell someone so we can get you help.

For this to work, though, the team member needs a clear and unambiguous way to answer a key question of his own: Am I on track to finish on time? Ideally the answer to this question is a clear “Yes” or a clear “No,” with no ambiguity or judgment involved. (Like any “Check” it should produce a binary result.)

On an automobile line with a takt time on the order of 55 seconds, the assembler can get a good sense of this. If he loses more than three or four seconds, he isn’t going to make it. But “a good sense” isn’t good enough.

Even in this fast-moving situation, you will see visual indicators that help the team member answer this question. Take a look at this photo.

toyota-assy

See the white hash marks along line at the bottom of the picture? Those mark off the moving line work zone into ten increments of about 5 ½ seconds. The assembler knows where he should be as he performs each task. If he is a hash mark behind, he isn’t going to finish on time. Pull the andon. We can safely say that, in this example, we have accomplished (1) and (2) above.

With longer takt times, it is much tougher for a human to have a good sense of how much time will be required to complete the remaining work. That makes it that much more critical that some kind of intermediate milestones are clearly established and linked to time.

What would be a reasonable increment for these checks? –> How far behind are you willing to let your worker get before someone else finds out? I’d say a good starting point is at the point when he can’t recover the time himself, the problem is no longer his. Following the standard work is the responsibility of the team member. Recovering to takt time is the team leader’s domain. At the very least, he is the one who pitches in and helps, or gets someone else to do so. But he can’t do this if he doesn’t know there is a problem.

So – what should be happening?

The team member must have continuous positive confirmation that he is on track to complete the work on time. With the failure of that positive confirmation, he should pull the andon and get assistance.

The team member must call for assistance (“pull the andon”) if his work falls behind the expected progress for any reason whatsoever.

What is actually happening?

In our example, the team member didn’t get help until it was too late. In fact, he verbally assured the team leader he was “OK” on a couple of occasions. The line stop was irrefutable evidence of a problem. That was a good thing. This company has a takt time, and runs to it. Think of what would have happened if they didn’t. It might take hours, or days, before this problem surfaced. (We are nowhere near the root cause yet. The line stop is just evidence of a problem, not the problem itself.)

Why does the gap exist?

It is a hell of a lot harder to answer this question than the other two. In this case, you are going to have to peel back a lot of layers before you get to the actual, systemic, root cause. But in the immediate sense, with a takt time bordering on three hours, there is really no realistic way a worker can judge if he has fallen too far behind to catch up. The fact that, in this case, the assembler was still learning the job, and that just compounds the situation.

From casual observation – when the team leader visited, he asked if things were OK and accepted the reply – I would start to investigate whether the team leader had a good sense himself of where the work should be at his regular check points… if he has regular check points at all.

But all of this is speculation, because after 10 minutes of watching the initial response to the line stop, our little group had moved on. I am mentioning these things as possibilities because you likely have the same issues in your shop. (And if you don’t have a rigorous sense of takt time, it is equally likely you don’t know about those issues even at the level we saw here. At least THIS company can see the evidence of the problem. That is a credit to their visual controls.)

What are we going to do about it?

Obviously there are a couple of immediate things that can be addressed to at least contain the problem. (That is, convert a hard line stop into multiple andon calls so the actual problems are seen earlier.)

I would want to establish a regular routine for the team leader’s checks. His leader standard work. At regular intervals, he should be checking progress of the work. How often? How far behind do you want the assembly to get before you are certain someone finds out about the problem? In this case, even every 20 minutes is less rigorous than the hash marks on the auto assembly line. But it would be a start.

So we have the team leader coming by every 20 minutes.

But he can’t just ask “How is it going?” We clearly saw that didn’t work. It isn’t that the assembler lied to him, it is that the assembler didn’t know because there was no standard.

What work should be complete 20 minutes into the work cycle? At 40 minutes? At 60? What verifiable facts can the team leader check by observation? There are a lot of ways to do this, most of them very simple and non-intrusive. Think it through.

But wait – now the team leader himself has standard work. What cues him to do it? Is he supposed to notice that 20 minutes has elapsed? In this case, the company already has a pretty sophisticated andon and sound system. It would be a pretty simple matter to put in an audible signal that told the team leader to make his checks. But, again, that is just one solution. I can think of a couple of others. Can you?

What is the team leader checking for? This is a critical question.

Think about it.

What was the original answer to “What should be happening?” (which is “the standard”)

We said:

  1. The work should be complete on time.
  2. As soon as you know it isn’t going to be complete on time, please tell someone so we can get you help.

We want the assembler himself to be checking #1.

So why do we have the team leader check?

So he can verify that the assembler is pulling the andon when he should. This is important because it is human nature not to ask for help until it is too late. This isn’t limited to factory floors. How many cardiac patients die because they ignored the warning symptoms for fear that it isn’t serious enough to get help?

It isn’t enough to ask the team member to call for help. You have to expect it, encourage it and require it.

Interestingly enough, as I was writing this post, John Shook posted his story about converting the culture at NUMMI.

A cornerstone of Respect for People is the conviction that all employees have the right to be successful every time they do their job. Part of doing their job is finding problems and making improvements. If we as management want people to be successful, to find problems, and make improvements, we have the obligation to provide the means to do so.

But, some of our GM colleagues questioned the wisdom of trying to install andon at NUMMI. “You intend to give these workers the right to stop the line?” they asked. Toyota’s answer: “No, we intend to give them the obligation to stop whenever they find a problem.” [emphasis added]

What was the problem in our example? We don’t know yet. We certainly can’t start looking for causes.

But the evidence of a problem was that the team member could not complete the work in the time expected. That is, he was not successful doing the job. And the line stopped because the support system failed to pick up the fact that he was falling behind until it was too late to recover.

It really does come down to respect for people.

The Lean Manager: Part 3 – People, Purpose, Problems, Process vs. “Systems”

Click image for Amazon.com listing

This is Part 3 of a multi-part review. Part 1 is here.

Before I get into it, I will break the rules of blogging and acknowledge a time gap here. I did finish the book shortly after I wrote part 2, in fact, I didn’t want to put it down. So now I am going back through and bringing out some key points, intermixed with some other stuff that has caught my interest lately. Anyway – back to what you came for…

Steve Spear has described the TPS as a “socio-technical system.” Put in less formidable terms, it is a system that uses the structure of the work, the work environment and the support systems (the technical part) to create an organizational culture of problem solving.

Jenkinson, Andy’s boss in the book, describes it:

“You need to organize a clear flow of problem solving, explained Jenkinson one more time. “Operators need to have a complete understanding of normal conditions, so that whenever there is a gap, they know it’s a problem. Go and see is not just for the top management, It’s for everybody. This means operators as well, in particular how they learn to see parts and see the equipment they use. How can all operators recognize they have a problem? [emphasis added]

The simple statement, and following question posed by Jenkinson sums up a great deal that is left out of lean implementations. I see it everywhere, and will be commenting on it more shortly.

We talk about “go and see” (or “genchi genbutsu“) as something leaders do. I think this is because traditional leaders aren’t naturally out in the work areas, on the shop floor, in the hangars, etc. We don’t think about the workers because they are there all of the time.

Yes, they are. But what do they see? Do they see disruptions and issues as things they are expected to somehow work around and deal with? Or do they see these things as something to call out, and fully participate in solving?

And if they do see a problem, what is the process for engaging it?

Just saying “you are empowered to fix the problem” does not make it so. When are they supposed to do it? Do they have the skills they need? How do you know? Is there a time-based process to escalate to another level if they get stuck? (Or do they just have to give up?)

And indeed, as the story in the book develops, Andy turns out to be taking a brute-force approach. He is directing staff to implement the tools and to solve problems. But in spite of nearly continuous admonitions from his boss and other experts, he is not checking how they are doing it. He has put a “get-r-done” operations manager into place, and while the guy is getting “results,” in the long haul it doesn’t work very well. Yes, they end making some improvements, but at the expense of alienating the work force.

It is only late in the story (and I won’t get into the details to avoid playing the spoiler to a pretty good plot twist) that Andy finally learns the importance of having a process that is deliberately designed to engage people.

Commentary – it is amazing to me just how much we (in the “lean community”) talk about engaging people, but never really work through the deliberate processes to do it. There are explicit processes for everything involving production, administration, etc. but somehow we expect “engaging people” to happen spontaneously just because we believe it is a good thing.

The message in this book is loud and clear. This is about leadership. The tools are important, yes, but only (in my opinion) because they are proven techniques that allow people to become engaged with the process.

But the tools alone do not require people to get engaged.

Permission to make input is necessary, but not sufficient. If you want people to be engaged, you have to deliberately engage them. Otherwise you are just asking them to become nameless cogs in “the system.”