A favorite Twilight Zone episode that played Labor Day weekend put me in mind of the stressful push production environment that many organizations still endure today. In a technical sense, push production refers to launching orders into production before customer requirements are known and then pushing them along, some faster than others as requirements become clearer. Shigeo Shingo referred to this production method as speculative, a euphemism for guessing. With a forecast and MPS at the front end of the push, perhaps this could be elevated to educated guessing. In my MRP days I witnessed the ugly consequences of the automated push: Computer-assisted attempts to tweak the push, including exponential smoothing, safety stock, pan size, shrinkage, yield, order point, n-days supply, fixed and variable lead times, transit times, minimum lot size – all intended to optimize the guessing, but all ultimately resulting in over-production, over-time and over-burden.
The first two “overs”, over-production and over-time, chewed at the bottom line. But the mental and physical stress of push production, the over-burden, ate away at the soul of the organization. Work days were defined by expediting, bumping queues, threats, accusations, finger-pointing poison-pen letters and CYA reports intended to deflect blame when customer deliveries were missed. Over-burden created a social condition worse than push. It was push-push-push! Watching the Twilight Zone clip rekindled memories of the divisive and counterproductive behaviors engendered by push production.
Once a job had been launched to the factory, for example, it was typically impractical to de-kit it and return it to stock. In fact, having just-in-case work orders in the plant provided a false sense of security: there was always something to keep machines and people busy. With this reservoir of make-work orders, measures like machine utilization, OEE, absorption and labor efficiency could all be manipulated to paint a rosy picture of productivity. Excess orders on hand became habitual.
Too often, those unneeded work orders would be cannibalized to fill part shortages for urgent customer orders. A sales manager once blasted me: “Production does nothing until my customer’s need becomes urgent.” In fact, while that appeared to be the case, the factory was almost always busy building something, just not the right thing. Production by heroics worked for a few key customers, but to the others who were bumped back in the queue, we were bums, not heroes. A frustrated assembly supervisor remarked as we neared our month-end push, “You know we pump all kinds for work into the factory during the month, but almost nothing comes out until the end of the month. It feels like constipation.” The crowning blow, however, came from a customer, visiting our factory shortly after I transferred to manufacturing: “Congratulations,” she said, “on your new job, Mr. Hamilton. Perhaps you explain why it takes sixteen weeks for your company to produce product that’s smaller than my fist.”
That was 1985, the year I resolved that there had to be better way. The push system was bad for our customers, but my burning platform for change had as much to do with the stressful, dehumanizing environment of push, push, push.
BTW: It’s not too late, even though there are only a few days left before our 11th Annual Northeast Lean Conference in at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Take a look our outstanding lineup of workshops and presenters here, and register here. Hope I’ll see you there.