Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Andon Lights Make Us Look Lean

After visiting and working at numerous manufacturing plants across the United States this past year, I have come to the conclusion that we really don’t know how to use an andon light properly much less know why we should use them. In most cases, the lights are pointed out as one of the indicators that the plant does know about lean and practices lean principles. In these same plants, I see other things.

I have seen andon lights turned on and stay green all shift long regardless of multiple problems occurring. (Could it be possible the management yelled about the line stops and flashing lights so much that everybody is now afraid to pull the cord?)

I have seen andon lights turn on but all the bulbs were burned out rendering the light useless. (Maybe we should also work on our 5S audit program, lack of gemba walks and poor TPM program?).

I have seen andon lights flash and blink for hours but not one person comes running. (Why does the signal for help go unanswered and why don’t we look into the causes for the long delays?)

I have seen huge multi-stacked andon lights that nobody seems to remember why each color was needed. (How can we make the andon light system simpler?)

I have even seen andon lights used in shop floor pranks just to watch people frantically run around for the humor of the guilty light switch pullers. (Maybe we should read the story about the boy that cried wolf at our next shift meeting?)

Here is a simple visual signal that could improve awareness and responsiveness on the shop floor yet we don’t take the time to properly train and use this tool for its intended function. Just having andon lights is not an indication of being lean; it only helps make problems visible along with promoting the goal of FAST response.

I guess we have taken to heart what my old junior high football coach would regularly say to us on game day, “Boys, keep your jerseys tucked in and your socks pulled up. If you can’t play well, at least you are going to look like you can play well.”

New Lean Survey 5 Why Style

Thanks to the lean thinking approach of Mark Graban from the Lean Blog, there is a new 5 Why type lean survey under experimentation to address the limits of typical surveys. This all started from the results of the Lean Enterprise Institute 2007 State of Lean Survey. Please give it a try-link to survey.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Middle Managers are Biggest Obstacle to Lean Enterprise

According to the 2007 State of Lean Survey conducted by the Lean Enterprise Institute, the number one ranked obstacle to implementing lean is middle management resistance to change, jumping up from number three in last years survey.

Last years number one reported obstacle was backsliding which dropped all the way down to sixth place in this year’s survey.

It seems to be an interesting shift in just one year that it appears most respondents now can sustain gains better but must deal with the “concrete heads” of middle management to progress on their lean journey.

As a lean practitioner in the field working closely with several major clients, I have my own opinion on barriers to the lean journey. What about your obstacles to progress on your lean journey? Do you agree with these finding?

This survey was completed by 2,444 managers and executives within the base of LEI’s monthly e-letter subscribers. I wonder what the mix of senior level executives to lower level lean practitioners is within the 2,444 respondents. I see middle management resistance, employee resistance and supervisor resistance all making three of the top four obstacles to lean. Do you find that odd? Notice anyone missing from the list? Make me say, ummmmmmm!

From a senior executive point of view, I would say we could be a great lean company if it wasn’t for all our middle managers, supervisors and employees resisting change. Looks like the bus needs to makes a bus stop to let some (a lot of) people off. To make it more complete, how about adding supplier resistance and unreasonable customer demands to the list?

As a lean thinker, I find this difficult to believe. First, I would ask five whys to get deeper at the root cause of the obstacles to lean. It is not the five-who process to find the root blame. Until we stop trying to pin blame on someone else, we will not make progress on our lean journey. It is better that we should reflect on our own thinking and actions to see what obstacles we create and fix them first.

Despite my issues with the survey findings, LEI does an outstanding job promoting and teaching lean thinking along with helping organization on their lean journey. For more information, visit LEI at http://www.lean.org/.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Visual 5S Scores

As I pointed out in a previous post, lean grade inflation has found its way into plant assessments like 5S Audits. To address this issue, try converting from the common point scoring system (as seen above) to a green/red or pass/fail system (as seen below). For an added punch, supplement the green/red rating visual signal with a happy/sad face. At several plants where we made the switch, the change has proven successful and fun.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What's Next for Toyota?

I just read an outstanding piece in the latest Harvard Business Review (July/August 2007), “Lessons From Toyota’s Long Drive”, an interview of Toyota’s President Katsuaki Watanabe. If you want to learn more about the Toyota Way and the future direction of Toyota, it’s absolutely worth getting a copy. If you don’t want to spend the high cover price for the magazine, just run down to your local library to read it.

President Watanabe provides great insight to the Toyota Way in many of his comments.
In regards to Toyota’s vision for their factory of the future:

“The new manufacturing process at Takaota will completely change the way Toyota makes cars. We call them the “simple, slim, and speedy” production system. Right now our processes are complicated, so when a problem occurs, it is difficult to identify the cause. We’ve tried to make the processes at Takaota simple, keep the facility slim, and have people close by observe the process.

When the first line at Takaota opens, this summer, it be Toyota’s fastest production line, and it will cut lead times, logistics, and assembly time in half.

Instead of transfer bar, we will use robots. That will allow the line to move 1.7 times faster than it used to. We have cut the length of the line by half. A new painting process allows us to apply three coats at the same time, without having to wait for each coat to dry. This will shorten painting times by 40%. To build in quality, we will go beyond visual inspection and use high-precision instruments to measure several parameters.”

As for manufacturing flexibility, President Watanabe goes on to say:

“We will have more flexibility than ever before: Each line at Takaota will be able to produce eight different models, so the plant will produce 16 models on two lines compared with the four or five it used to produce on three lines. In the old plan we used to make 220,000 vehicles a year on each line; now we will be able to make 250,000 units on each line. Toyota needs such radical changes today.”

I was taught that inventory is one of the seven deadly wastes. In the United States, we view inventory as a necessary evil or a cost of doing business. The Toyota Way viewpoint is that inventory is an absolute evil. With this in mind, I found President Watanbe’s comments on material movement and number of parts very interesting:

“Take the movement of parts in a factory, for example. Moving components doesn’t add to their value; on the contrary, it destroys value, because parts may be dropped or scratched. So the movement of components should be limited as much as possible. I want our production engineers to take on the challenge of ensuring that things move as little as possible-close to the theoretical limit of zero-on the shop floor.”

“Our goal is to shrink the number of components we use by half.”

So how is Toyota achieving their vision of the future?

“Toyota must keep growing even as it builds a stronger foundation for the future; it has to do both for the company’s long-term health. There are three keys to building a stronger foundation: We must improve product quality, keep reducing costs, and, in order to attain those two objectives, develop human resources.”