Saturday, October 31, 2009

Andons don't apply here

Anyone who's part of a lean transformation in manufacturing will be familiar with andon systems. Andon systems are visual control systems that enable team members to signal for help or assistance without leaving their station. This keeps the value stream intact and brings support staff to them. Andon systems are usually made up of lights, sounds, displays and other technology to highlight an issue at the line. Let me now shamelessly plug Industrial Andons,, the largest manufacturer of wireless andon systems in the world!

Often times, off the factory floor I hear remarks like, 'andons don't apply to us, I guess you think we should have stack lights on our cubicles'. As much as I might like to sell light stacks to cube farms, no that's not what I'm saying.

The important point is not to focus on the tool but to understand the question that the tool was created to answer. The question andons answers is: How can we enable our team members to get assistance without disrupting their work? In other words, what is our escalation plan?

When I first worked with my Japaneese sensei, he would drive me nuts by saying things like, 'I see no andon here' while standing in the middle of the procurement department. It took me a while to realize what he was really saying. He was referring to the simple tool as a way to get me to think about the question that needed answered. It's sort of like Yoda speak from Star Wars, 'hmmm, only once you have andon will your problem of escalation be no more'.

So, the philosophy of an andon system, or escalation process is universally important. The manifestation of the solution will depend on the application. As you walk through any part of an organization, just ask yourself, is there is a standardized process for someone to signal that they have a problem and how it is addressed?

And then try to work in Yoda quote just for good measure.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Doesn't apply here

I don't know how many companies or departments within companies that I work with where their first reaction to lean is, "that doesn't apply here".

I guess that's a natural response to anything new or unknown. Additionally, most lean activities start in manufacturing areas and the activities that occur there appear very different than the activities performed by knowledge workers.

I have found that there is a need to translate the language and conversation to an area of common understanding. This helps them to feel less threatened and more open to the ideas.

I will first go through and compare traditional lean manufacturing activities and map them to the world of the knowledge worker.

After that I will hopefully have some more research done on another realm of lean off the factory floor that I can share.