I was in a factory recently that looked like a warehouse. The manager proudly described how they had eliminated their stockroom and brought all inventory to “point of use.” We had a conversation:
Me: “Why did you do this?”
Manager: “This is a best Lean practice.”
Me: “Do you mean like ‘making the problem ugly?’
Manager: “What problem?”
Me: “The inventory.”
Manager: “Before we had to get it from the stockroom, now it’s right at point of use. That’s not a problem.”
Me: “What do you mean by point of use?
He looked at me incredulously and said, “It’s stored at the point where it’s used.” He was speaking more slowly now as if to make it easier for me follow.
“You mean you’re using all of this inventory today?” I asked.
“No, of course not,” he answered with growing impatience, “but now we can see it, it’s visual!”
I replied, “It’s kind of hiding production.” Seven and a half foot shop shelves had walled in every production area. “That doesn’t seem very visual. I can’t even see the workers and they can’t see each other.”
About this time an employee on the floor shouted over an inventory wall to another employee on the other side. “See?” I joked, “your team members have to shout to communicate.”
The manager, by now out of patience, reiterated, “Well, it’s a Lean best practice and we’re sticking with it.” Then he added with emphasis, “We’ve freed up four thousand square feet of stockroom space and eliminated five stockkeepers.” From my perspective, he’d only rearranged the inventory and likely heaped stockkeeping work on production employees. But I decided not to press the issue, as he was getting red-faced.
The visit ended unfortunately, pretty much in a standoff, each of us equally unimpressed with the other. My mentor, Shigeo Shingo, said “first know why, then know how.” I think this manager was stuck on the know how, and was immune to my questioning. Terms like “point of use” and “visual” are just names. Without a deeper understanding of why they are important they’re essentially abusive of workers.
Do you have a story to share? Are there canyons of ‘point-of-use’ inventory in your factory? Let me hear from you.
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