Many years ago I wrote an article for SME called The Essence of Jidoka. In that article I described a four step process designed to improve productivity and drive continuous improvement. Since then these four steps have been picked up and incorporated into the training materials of many consultants, used to write the Wikipedia article on jidoka (which I most assuredly did not author), and even found their way into some academic papers. Sometimes with attribution back to my article, may times without.
In that article, “jidoka” was described as a four step process:
- Detect a problem.
- Fix or correct the problem.
- Find the root cause and implement a permanent countermeasure.
But I would like to take a hard look at the first step: Detect the problem. This is where, I believe, most organizations actually fall down. And in doing so, they also fall down on respect for people.
The key question is: “What do you consider a problem?”
Most organizations do not see a problem until the symptoms are bad enough that they are compelled to do something about it. This means people have been struggling with issues for some time already. The machine isn’t reliably producing good parts. Or someone is having to rework material. Or the supplies cabinet is always short, and the nurses have to launch a safari to find what they need.
Contrast this with a company like Toyota. Every Toyota-trained leader I have ever dealt with is very consistent. A problem is any deviation from the standard. More importantly, a deviation from the standard (1) forces people to improvise and (2) is an opportunity to learn.
Probably the best explanation to date is in the research done by Steven Spear at Harvard. His work was summarized in the landmark article Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System.
Spear’s research concluded there were four tacit rules for how activities, information connections, flow paths, and improvements were designed and executed in Toyota operations. Each of those rules describes:
Any deviation from the standard triggers some kind of alert that gets someone’s attention. And whose attention is explicitly defined – That is a standard as well.
As I look at a work area, I often see a lot of 5S type of activity. Things and their intended locations are marked and labeled. These are standards. They establish what should be where. But the question to ask is “What happens if something is out of place?”
That is a deviation from the standard. It is a problem.
Fix or Correct (put it back – restore the standard condition)
Investigate the root cause
“What’s going on with the air wrench today?”
“Actually it is an extra one.”
“Really? Where did it come from?”
“I borrowed it from the Team Member in work zone 3.”
“Ah, OK. Why did you need his?”
“The regular one isn’t working.”
“Hey – thanks for letting me know. I’ll get it to maintenance.”
“Did you tell anyone about the problem before now?”
“No, I just borrowed the wrench. I just needed to get this job done, then forgot. It’s no big deal, it’s easier to just borrow Scott’s wrench.”
And in that exchange, what have you discovered about your daily management system by simply being curious about a trivial deviation from a 5S standard?
Is this the Team Member’s fault?
Probably not. What is your standard? What is he supposed to do if the wrench stops working? Is there an escalation process and a response for this kind of small stoppage? Or are your Team Members just expected to find a way to work through the issue? Which of those responses is more respectful of the Team Member who spends her time trying to create value for you?
Often times there is no standard.
But without a standard you have no way to tell if there is a problem (other than a feeling that something isn’t right). And if you are sure there is a problem, without a standard you can’t really define what “fixed” is.
So start with defining the standard. First, go back to Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. You can get an idea of the kinds of things you should standardize.
As you think of standards, consider a standard for your standard:
- Express it from the viewpoint of the process customer.
- Define it in a way that can be verified as “met” or “not met.” No gray zones. You can quantify the magnitude of a problem, but not whether you have one.
- There is a visual or other control tells the appropriate person, right away, if there is a deviation from your standard?
- Is there a standard that triggers a response to clear the problem?
5S is nothing more than the first step of setting standards. Many people say to start there, but don’t say why. The point is to practice setting standards and holding them. Taiichi Ohno is quoted as saying:
“If there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.”
Any deviation from the standard is a problem.
Your choice, as a leader, is how to handle that problem.