Clearing the Problem / Solving the Problem

As I work with clients to get a “problem solving culture” embedded, one common challenge is the distinction between the short term work-around to remove the obstacle, and the long-term countermeasure that actually improves the process.

I addressed this at a conceptual level in the “Morning Market” post a while ago.

Last week I was working with a client who has begun using the work-around as their key insight into the issue they have to solve.

When the work flow is disrupted, they are careful to capture what they had to do in order to clear the problem and get the item back into the normal production flow.

“We had to wait for parts.”

“We had to rework _____.”

“We had to get on someone else’s login for enough security to do the task.”

“We had to find the ____.”

“We had to replace ___”

This is really valuable information. By appending “Why did…” in front of the statement, they have a fairly well defined starting point for getting to the bottom of the actual issue.

By making the containment action the first “Why?” they get off the containment-as-solution mindset.

It might not work for everyone, but it is working very well for them.

“Please continue.”  Smile

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.”

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.

Rapid PDCA with 3P

“3P” is not a Toyota term. The workshop structure was taught by Shingijutsu and is now being propagated by people who learned it while working in their client companies.

The most visible characteristic of 3P, the Production Preparation Process, is the idea of creating quick and dirty mock-ups of the product and the process. These mockups are often constructed of wood, cardboard, PVC pipe – materials at hand.

600x3p-benches

The idea is to be able to quickly and cheaply try out, and experience, a process (or product) so that problems can be surfaced, opportunities for improvement can be seen, and the PDCA cycle can be turned far more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.

The purpose of the mockup is to create a gemba of sorts, where you would not otherwise have one. Now, rather than doing an abstract analysis, you have something that people can see, touch, and interact with. Doing so forces details to the surface that are simply invisible in abstract models in computers or on paper.

Some companies use the process to design their products as well as the processes that are used to manufacture them.

Last week one of my clients took their first steps into this process. The photo above has been pixelated so as not to reveal details about their product design.

They had done pretty extensive analysis using traditional industrial engineering methods, and had a CAD drawing of the proposed layout. That was the starting point.

The first step, then was to create that layout in real-size. That took the team about 90 minutes.

They assembled some tables, got some boxes and cardboard, and represented the machines, the work positions, the material and people flow.

Even as they were doing this, some of the team members saw things that they questioned, such as an ergonomically awkward operation. Others simply had questions. Why? Because in translating the drawing into the real world, even a superficial one, details already had to be resolved.

Once they had the starting condition mocked up, the team took prototype parts of the product and went through the motions of a team member trying to assemble it.

This felt a little awkward at first, but they began to see more opportunities, and resolve more detail.

We did a little coaching, pointing out motions that could be eliminated, others that could be consolidated. We talked about the smooth flow of people’s work, and looked for opportunities to better match the work flows to the takt time.

In the next couple of hours the team went through dozens of small PDCA cycles, each time adding a little more detail, adding a physical control, or a visual control. They found “knacks” that enabled quicker assembly with less adjustment.

They identified exactly how and where parts should be presented to the assembler.

They discovered small design and packaging changes that could make a big difference in the assembly time and quality. It did not hurt that the design engineer was trying to work out the details of one of the more awkward elements of the assembly.

They found key points that were critical to quality, examined the vulnerability to simple mistakes, and worked on how to make those more clear.

3pAndon

They identified characteristics that would help the machines better support the work flow. How do parts move in, move out? Where do the hands go to start the machine? How does the location of the controls support (or hinder) the work steps that come before and after?

As they looked at test operations, they started working out what they wanted to happen when there was a problem. They started to work out a line stop protocol and added andons to those machines, so they could signal an abnormal result.

Curious visitors, some senior managers, others just happening by and wondering what was going on, were enlisted as test subjects. Is the work cycle simple and clear? Is it easy to teach? Is the layout intuitive?

What can we do to make the visuals more clear, and to lay things out to guide the correct process sequence? Which “knacks” have to be taught? How quickly can a “new operator” be brought up to speed and make the takt time?

Over three days, the details came into sharper and sharper focus.

In the end, the team had constructed a full size model of their target condition. They are clear how the process needs to operate to give them the performance they want; and they are equally clear about the next problems that must be solved to get there.

They can specify their equipment with far more insight, and many of the details of how to guide the product and people through the process are now much better understood.

And, as a side benefit, this cross functional team has communicated far more than they would have otherwise with meetings and email. They have spent three days embedded in a joint project to envision what they want this to look like.

To be clear, a lot of work remains, and many more details remain to be worked out. But over three days this team now has a much more clearly aligned concept of what they are striving to achieve.

Boeing Moving Line

Boeing’s “PTQ” (Put Together Quickly) videos show a time lapse of an airliner in production. They have been producing the for years – certainly since I was working there.

This one, though, shows something a little special.

When I first started working there, the idea of a line stop was unthinkable. The plane moved on time, period. Any unfinished work “traveled” with the plane, along with the associated out-of-sequence tasks and rework involved.

The fact that the 737 is now built on a continuously moving assembly line in Renton is fairly well known.

But what struck me in this PTQ video is that one of the things highlighted in it is a line stop. It happens pretty quickly at about 1:57.

The video is also full of rich visual controls to allow the team to compare the actual flow vs. the intended flow. See many many you can spot.

Pull as Kaizen

Michael Ballé’s recent Gemba Coach column drives home the importance of understanding that all of the so-called “tools of lean” are really there to drive problem solving.

A well designed kanban system is (or at least should be) built to not simply provide a pull signal, but more importantly, to continuously ask, and answer:

  • “What is supposed to be happening?” (what is the target condition?)
  • “What is actually happening” (what is the current condition?)

and give at least a hint of the problem that needs to be addressed right now when there is an issue. As a minimum, what condition must be addressed right now, and the first “Why? to be investigated.

A couple of months ago I posed a hypothetical question about a team’s effort to put in a kanban process and asked for your thoughts and comments.

The scenario I described was, with one or two trivial changes, copied directly from pages 48 and 49 of the Lean Enterprise Institute’s latest workbook, Creating a Lean Fulfillment Stream.

Although the process as described would likely work (at least for a few items), I was really surprised to see an LEI book describe a process that explicitly and deliberately breaks the “rules of kanban” that they have published elsewhere, particularly in Lean Lexicon. The LEI did not make up the rules of kanban, they have been well established for decades. Thus, I have to admit that my first response was to question the credibility of the entire book (Lean Fulfillment Stream), even though there are many things in it that are worthwhile.

Many of you correctly called out issues with the mechanics. Now, in light of this new information, I would again like to invite comment.

If a good process should be set up to continuously ask, and reveal the answers to, those two questions, where does this kanban scheme come up short?

How would those issues cause problems with the processes that Ballé is describing in his column?

 

Automating the Coaching Questions

Hopefully that title got some attention.

In Toyota Kata, Mike Rother frames a PDCA coaching process around five questions.

The first three questions are:

  1. What is the target condition?
  2. What is the current condition?
  3. What problems or obstacles are preventing you from reaching the target?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could build a machine that asked and answered those questions for us?

Of course automated processes do not improve themselves (yet). But they can be made to compare current operation against a standard.

When Sakichi Toyoda was working on automated weaving looms, he was actually striving to reduce the need to have an operator overseeing each and every machine. That was the point of automating the equipment. One of the problems he encountered was that threads break. When that happened, the machine would continue to run, producing defective material.

So in order to reach his goal, he needed to replace the need for a human operator to be asking these questions and give that ability to the process itself.

What is the target condition?

The loom continues to run and produces defect free material. For this to occur, the threads must remain intact.

What is the current condition?

The threads are either intact, or they are broken.

But if the machine cannot continuously ask, and answer, that second question then a human must do it. Otherwise, nobody gets to the third question, “What is stopping us?” unless they happen to notice the machine is smoothly producing defective material.

Since his goal was to reduce the need for human oversight, he had to solve this problem.

Toyoda’s (now classic, and still used) response was to put thin metal floaters on each thread. If a thread broke, the floater dropped, triggering an automatic machine shutdown.

The machine was now asking the second coaching question with each and every cycle, comparing the actual situation with the target situation.

The event of the machine shutting down triggered the attention of a human operator with the answer to the third question.

What problem or obstacle is preventing you from reaching the target?

Right now, there is a broken thread. I cannot produce defect-free material until this situation is corrected. Please assist me.

The process was named jidoka and in that moment, the foundation for what grew into the Toyota Production System was set.

Without reliable and consistent production, one-by-one flow and just-in-time are impossible. The options are to either work on the problem, or stop improving.

It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that there are processes in place to do these things. Sitting still is not an option, there is nothing in these techniques that is a secret. Your competitors are doing it. It is only a matter of who can solve problems faster and better.

 

“We CAN’T Just Stop The Line!”

I suppose, at some level, that makes emotional sense. After all, the idea is to keep production moving.

But the logical follow-on question is: “OK, so if the team member encounters aproblem that is going to force her to work around things, to do the work in a way that wasn’t planned, what do you want her to do?

 

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.”

 

 

Just a Few Seconds

What is a few seconds of delay? Why is it such a big deal?

Consider this example.

While touring the Pilsner Urquell brewery in (surprise!) Pilsen, Czech Republic, we saw a lot of really good information boards, general organization, and a clear management commitment to continuous improvement.

Their packaging plant produces 60,000 bottles of beer an hour. Even though they produce “bottles of beer” this is more of a process industry than a discrete product industry. Most of the operations are highly automated with human supervision, rather than human operated. So do the principles of “lean” apply?

Partly, it depends on your definition of “lean.” If you subscribe to the most common partial definition, where “lean” is a set of tools, then most people would struggle finding relevance to the context. On the other hand, if you look at this as a structure for the work, the work place, and the organization to drive out and solve problems – then you are in comfortable territory here.

While those machines are largely automated, they do occasionally have problems.

Those problems can be seen as a disruption or slowing of production. But in a large complex operation, many times these things are subtle and hard to pick up.

If you are running a process industry, consider these questions.

What is your nominal, expected rate of throughput at each and every critical juncture in the plant?

How do you know you are achieving that rate?

What is the threshold of slowing or disruption that will get your attention?

Remember, we want to look at “chatter as signal” here. While failure is a common condition, it is not a condition we ignore.

conveyer

This conveyer is coming out of the carton machine. Bottles go in. Flat cartons go in. Glue pellets go in. Cartons of beer come out, at a pretty good clip.

While we were there, though, a carton was mangled. As it got just downstream of this spot, the line was stopped. I don’t know if it was an automatic or a manual stop – I would hope it was automatic.

A couple of team members pulled the carton out, and re-started the line.

The line was stopped for 32 seconds.

Count how many cartons of beer go by in 32 seconds. Subtract that from the day’s production. It isn’t one mangled carton, it is almost 60 cartons of beer that will not be made today.

Sitting next to our mangled carton was another one, presumably from earlier in the shift.

120 cartons.

“Stop and respond to every deviation.”

Why did the line stop? Because the carton was mangled. Good call.

Why was the carton mangled?

Again – this is an operation bordering on world class, but I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. They could be doing everything I mention here. So please look at this as an opportunity for a hypothetical example.

This is the kind of problem that executives often decide is not worth solving. It is, in the grand scheme of profit and loss, floor sweepings.

Hopefully that is not the case at Pilsner Urquell. I honestly don’t know. But what I do know is I can estimate that a couple of pallets of beer never get made each day as long as this problem persists. If a thief stole two pallets of beer from the warehouse every day, security would be all over it.

In a “lean” operation, though, we pay attention to these things. Just a few seconds matter. Why? Because those few seconds are what stand between the current condition and a target of more production with no more capital equipment.

In a process industry, that equipment costs big, big bucks. So now we are talking, not about a case of beer, not even about a little problem, but rather the fact that if there is a systematic approach to dealing with these little problems we might be saving many millions in future investments.

How reliable and consistent is the equipment and machinery in your operation?

Do you carry out regular maintenance checks? How do you know? Is there a way to verify that those checks were actually made – or at a minimum, verify that someone had to go to the place where they should be done? How do you know? It is one thing to have the pretty pictures in notebooks or on a board. It is another to have a physical check of some kind.

If you can verify those checks are being made, great. That is standard work. You have created a working hypothesis:

“If we carry out these checks, and this routine maintenance, at these times, in this way, then we will never be surprised by a stoppage.”

Of course you will be wrong. Unexpected slowdowns and stoppages are going to happen. But in our lean world, chatter is signal. Being wrong tells us something we didn’t know when we created those checks. That unexpected failure or breakdown had some kind of precursor that we might have prevented, and certainly should have seen. So we set up the process to immediately detect a slowdown or stoppage and let us know. We verify that the checks have been made, and then look at what we must change about them to cover the new insight we have.

Maybe this time we are only saving a few seconds. But it is really impossible to measure the effects of problems that do not occur.

If you are overrun by these problems, deal with the ones you can, maybe just a few every day, but deal with them in the right way, using thorough problem solving to the root cause. Be able to answer the question “What did we learn about our process here?” with something that you didn’t know previously.

Just a few seconds, but just as you save sixty seconds to save a minute, those seconds add up. At the very least, know what is happening out there. Go and see.

Overburdened with Andon Calls

Bryan Zeigler has a great post on his “Lean is Good” blog site. Titled “Andon Calls and Muri,” he describes Toyota’s phenomenal  capacity for responding to problems, and then takes us back to where the rest of us are with some really great questions:

If it is physically impossible to answer every andon call in order to work on every problem, is it best to fix the first one that comes sequentially?  Then do work arounds and rework until we can respond to another one?

I have always used systems to prioritize what problems we work on whether it be pareto charts, value stream maps, or just plain standing in the circle.  Once directions, or as Toyota Kata describes them, process target conditions, are established and the highest priority items are “fixed” and then we move on the the next most important challenge.

Working on all problems in the process would overburden the organization’s problem solvers.  This would be a form of dreaded muri right?  I’ve read and heard much about the Toyota staffing levels required to operate TPS effectively.  Most range from 5 to 7 employees under each level of leadership position.  Again, my experiences are more like 30 to 40 employees under a 1st line leader.

Two questions:

  1. What percentage of daily problems are organizations that you work in staffed to handle?
  2. What philosophies do you utilize to ensure you don’t introduce Muri to the problem solving teammates in the organization?

Great observation, and great questions. And Bryan is certainly not the only one who has had the insight to ask them.

At this point, I have to issue a bit of a disclaimer. I have spent a full day on the shop floor in Bryan’s workplace. I can visualize exactly what he is talking about. Unfortunately schedules didn’t allow me to meet him, but I have a pretty good sense of the situation he is dealing with.

Since pretty much everyone has these issues when they start to contemplate andon calls, let’s start by reviewing the theoretical base, then moving into reality.

The core principle of jidoka is “Stop and respond to every abnormality.” That is what we are trying to do here. This means there must be a clear definition of what is “normal” and what is “abnormal.”

In the strictest sense, if it isn’t clearly defined as “normal” it is ambiguous.

In a system where the most basic fundamental is to define processes, ambiguity is a problem as well. Put another way, “ambiguity” is, by definition, “abnormal.”

So, in effect, we are asking the team member to let us know when anything is not clearly consistent with the defined norms.

The first response to an andon call is to clear the problem. If the “problem” is lack of clarity then deal with that. Replace uncertainty with clarity. Set some kind of an hard criteria for what does, and does not, need your attention. This means take management responsibility for the fact that the problem exists, and you aren’t going to do anything about it right now.

The next step is critical: If you can’t solve it right now, contain it.

“Containing the problem” means establish a temporary standard of some kind. Some kind of action that allows the team member to resume safe, defect free work. You might have introduced some inefficiency into the process, but safety and quality take priority.

And here is the dangerous part. You have the problem more or less under control. You can easily walk away and move on to the next one.

But consider this: You have the tiger in a cage. You are in the cage with it. You have to keep feeding the tiger (with time, resources) so it doesn’t eat your process. The only way to make the tiger go away is to get to the root cause.

This temporary standard does, however, give you a measure of stability. You can organize your problem solving efforts and focus on the ones that are the most critical to you. Meanwhile, however, you are burning resources feeding all of those tigers.

Typically a temporary countermeasure (problem containment) is some adjustment to the process. You have set a new standard work sequence that includes the steps required to keep this problem from affecting customers or escaping downline.

Yes, it is a work-around. But it is one you developed deliberately for a specific reason, until you can get to clearing that issue for good.

As you continue to identify problems and at least get them contained in some way, continue to refine the things you want to call attention to.

First, be explicitly clear on what things must trigger an andon call. These are the things you really want to know about when they happen. For sure it should be any safety issue and any issue that threatens quality. It could be an issue you are currently focused on resolving, such as late parts delivery, an upstream quality issue, a piece of unreliable equipment.

Then establish the time trigger. To do this you need to have three things pretty clear in your mind.

  • A good idea of how long the process is supposed to take.
  • A method for the team member to know when he is behind, and how much.
  • A standard for how much delay you are willing to tolerate. Put another way, how long to are you willing to let the team member get behind before he tells someone? My suggestion here is no more time than you can help him catch up. If he gets further behind than that, you are going to pass the problem to another part of the process downstream in the form of a late delivery.

Now you have some simple rules.

Please try to perform the standard work so we can see any problems with it.

  • If any unsafe condition exists, stop and pull the andon. Wait until we can clear the hazard.
  • Do not knowingly ship bad quality to the next process. Pull the andon so we can come, assess, and decide how we are going to deal with that.
  • If you have this problem, this problem, or this problem, stop and pull the andon so we can come and clear the problem as well as understand it as soon as it happens.
  • If you accumulate any delays longer than xx minutes, pull the andon.

This puts you in control. You get to decide how much excess capacity (how many extra people) to pad delays. You get to decide what problems trigger a call. You get to decide what you can handle.

All I ask is:

  • Do not tolerate unsafe conditions. Always stop the process and always initiate a call.
  • Do not tolerate a process that routinely passes bad quality down stream. Always initiate a call. Don’t put the team member in a position where he has to judge what “good enough” is. Have a hard standard and stick to it.
  • Always thank the team member for bringing problems to your attention. Never discourage an andon call.
  • Never allow an andon call to go unanswered. Set a response time standard, measure it, and apply the same problem solving principles to that.

The other thing I would suggest is a system to manage problem solving. There are some suggestions in this post on morning markets.

The key point is that any problem you decide not to work on has to have some kind of temporary countermeasure incorporated into your expectations. If you do something that adds time, you must allow time for it to be done. Doing otherwise is introducing overburden – or to Bryan’s point, shifting the overburden from your problem solving back to the team member.

If you pay attention to what is really happening, and take management responsibility for all of the problems that the team members encounter, then (and only then) can you set rules about which ones you will, and will not, work on right now.

The hardest part of all of this? It is the “taking management responsibility” part. Getting an effective andon call process into place requires as much (actually more) process discipline in the leader’s ranks as it does on the shop floor. This is discipline not to panic, not to wish problems away, and to respond as though the team member is doing you a favor for calling out a problem vs. causing it.

An andon call process is a vital step toward truly engaging the team members. And it begins the shift from intermittent improvement to continuous improvement.