Many moons ago when I was just getting started on my lean journey, I visited a large automotive supplier to benchmark pull systems. My own factory had started a pilot kanban between two work centers and I was hoping to gain some insight from a more experienced source. To my disappointment, when I was escorted to the factory, the aisles were crowded with pallets of kitted orders. “What is this inventory?” I asked my tour guide. “That’s Kanban,” he said. “How so?” I asked. “Every day the stockroom pulls stock for the floor,” he explained, emphasizing the word “pull.” I thought to myself that this particular material looked just like traditional factory orders, launched before they were needed. The floor of this benchmark facility was more crowded with inventory than my own. Not wishing to be rude, I tactfully inquired, “Isn’t the kanban supposed to stay near to the supplying work center?” The factory manager confidently responded, “Oh yes, we have a central Kanban area. I’ll show you.” With that, he led me to large storage area that looked just like my stockroom only larger. “We pull from here,” he reiterated, once again emphasizing the operative word, “pull.”
“Amazing,” I thought to myself, “the factory has just swapped its STOCKROOM sign with one that reads “KANBAN.” (Thirty years later, by the way, that factory has been closed.) The point here is not to focus specifically on the tool, in this case kanban, but rather to highlight the difficulty that arises when the concept behind any tool is misunderstood. If we don’t understand “what good looks like,” we could be doing exactly the wrong thing.
Two days ago, for example, I heard a machinist jokingly describe his factory’s use of Andons: “When there’s a problem with my machine, I set the Andon to red and that signals everyone that I’m away from the machine hunting for the maintenance department.” Unfortunately, while the front line employee knows this not how Andons are supposed to function, the details are less well understood elsewhere. There is not a single Lean tool I can think of which is not burdened by misconceptions. Here are six common ones. Perhaps you can add to the list in the comments section below and we’ll keep a running tally (think we can get to 50?):
- Ganging up shop orders with similar set-ups regardless of due date in order to amortize set-up time, and then calling it “set-up reduction.” This is set-up avoidance. The whole idea of reducing set-ups to “build the customer’s exact order immediately” is lost when orders wait their turn for the right set-up.
- Creating dedicated “cells” which sit idle 80% of the time. People tell me, “We don’t have room for cells.” No wonder.
- Moving the stockroom to the factory and then referring to months of stock on hand as “point of use inventory.”
- Referring to work instructions as “standard work.” In fact, having a clear work standard and job instructions build an important foundation for standardized work but too few sites understand standardized work as a dynamic choreography matching supplier capability to customer rate.
- A subset of the above, confusing Takt time with cycle time.
- One of my favorite misconceptions came from an engineering manager who let me know that he appreciated the “8th waste” (loss of creativity) because he was tired of his engineers wasting their creativity on production problems.
Confronted by these kinds of mis-perceptions, I’m reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode, Eye of the Beholder. Watch the two-minute clip to see how ugly things can get when we don’t have a good understanding of the concepts behind Lean tools. In the last several years, a great deal of attention has been given to creating a Lean culture rather than just implementing the tools. This is an ideal I subscribe to wholeheartedly so long as we define culture as an environment favorable to continuous improvement, and recognize that a proper understanding of the tools by both workers and managers is a key part of the culture.
PS I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind folks that the Early Bird price for The 12th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference – “Lean-By-Doing: Accelerating Continuous Improvement”– ends May 31. It’s a great event and all the better if you can save your company some dough when you register your group. (It’s still a really affordable event even if you wait until the summer to register, no worries.) I am really looking forward to it and hope you are making plans to join us. There will be keynote presentations by John Shook, Steven Spear, Art Byrne & Dr. Eric Dickson, plus more than 30 interactive, educational, inspirational and fun breakout sessions rounded out with networking socials, yokoten in the Lean Lounge and much more. Here’s the agenda. See you in October, I hope!
As an added incentive to add to my kanban misconceptions list, one commenter will receive a free registration for the whole event! Good luck! BEH