Monday, June 18, 2007

Clean Up Aisle 5

Here is a problem I discovered on my Gemba walk. After I noticed a damaged box with components spilled on the floor, I called the first employee I saw, a Warehouse Team Leader, to show him. He looked at me with mixed emotions that I took for a combination of mainly embarrassment (since I found something wrong in his area), a bit of grief (here’s another problem to deal with first thing in the morning) and a dose of frustration (this was not a planned action item on today’s To-Do list). More than likely, he was also little angry however he did not show any of it to me.

So can you guess his response?
a) “I didn’t do it, it must have happened on second shift.”
b) “I’ll find out who did it and fire the #^@%*$ !”
c) “I am so sorry, I’ll get it cleaned up immediately”
d) “It happens all the time, but it’s not a big problem.”
e) All of the above.

While I have heard all of these responses, in one form or another, many times before in my manufacturing experience, answer c is the most common response. Most employees will promptly get help to salvage the parts and clean up the mess as soon as possible. Once the mess gets straightened out, the problem is solved and we get back to manufacturing our products.

But was the problem really solved?

Well, that depends on your idea of the problem and your definition of solved. Yes, the mess was a problem and yes, the mess got cleaned up which is the proper initial action.

However, the true problem I discovered on my Gemba walk was not a damaged box in a warehouse. The true problem is that our response was only reactive and failed to include any real corrective or preventative actions not to mention failing to record the damaged box condition (for kaizen). We think that simply cleaning up the mess quickly and scraping out the parts is all that is needed. In effect, the problem of box damage remains hidden.

We did not ask the 5 Whys. We did not list the broken box on a kaizen newspaper. We did not look for other damaged conditions in the warehouse. We did not change a single process. There was no kaizen so we are doomed to repeat this cycle another day, over and over again.

How would employees in your company respond? Are you doomed to repeat the same cycle?


Rob said...

I see this attitude in so many companies. Perhaps a gravity fed storage solution could be implemented designed with the correct dimensions to hold the right number of component bins so that they whole installation occupies the space - no more, no less - to fulfil the requirement. They could be replenished from the opposite face outside the cell to avoid any disruption to ongoing production.

Also, you've got a link to my blog:, incorrectly listed as LeanSigma linking to Can you please change this to read: LearnSigma, linking to THANKS!

Karen Wilhelm said...

I was on a plant tour of a Japanese-owned Toyota supplier. I stepped on a slug of scrap in the delimited walking aisle and almost fell. I picked up the slug and handed it to the plant manager who was accompanying us on the tour and showed him where I found it. His response was more akin to "No big deal" as he pitched it into a trash barrel. Needless to say, I expected a bit more concern than that. Let's hope he went back and talked to the employees in that area later.

Mark Graban said...

We have to stop just putting fires out, we need to (after putting the fire out) stop and figure out why the fire occurred and how to prevent the next one.