Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Good Layout is in the Details

When faced with making improvements like the lean challenge of minimizing the floor space used by a process, we should proceed with careful consideration along with critical thinking. In the zeal of a kaizen blitz, many details not thought through could easily cripple our process. In the aftermath, costs would certainly go up but more importantly customer satisfaction would decrease.

Our recent kaizen event that reduced our floor space for three lines by 42% in a one week period was no exception. Despite the short time frame, we understood the need for careful consideration before jumping to solutions. The majority of our week was not involved in moving the lines or getting them up and running. We spent the majority of our effort trying to understand the current situation and planning.

Moving the lines is actually the easy part and for most of us the fun part. It only took a few hours to physically move the equipment with the help of a small group of associates we borrowed from another part of the plant. This was followed by Maintenance and contractors hooking it all up.

The real challenge is trying to get the team to focus on the current situation and resist the strong urge to start moving the lines immediately. After all we did have some previous time studies, Standard Work Combination sheets for the lines, CAD drawings of the area, demand patterns, listing of all the components and model profiles along with team members from the area to help us. What more do we need?

All this information was good however I still encouraged the team to go to gemba and see for themselves. We conducted our own time observations of the work and looked for every detail possible that helps us understand the current process as completely as possible. When the team was satisfied with the information, we started generating a potential layout.

We did not end up using our first layout. Why? In first draft we created more questions than answers so we went back to gemba. A good layout is in the details so we continued the cycle of seeking understanding and planning before action.

We originally planned to move all the lines the second night but the team came to the conclusion that we did not understand the current situation enough at that point to make the move. Wisely, we delayed the move to continue the process of learning.

By focusing the majority of our effort on grasping the situation first, the action of moving was fairly uneventful. No firefighting, no frantic emergencies, no heroics and no customer disappointments.

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