I’m currently working my way through Mike Rother’s book Toyota Kata. A formal review will follow in the future as I’m approximately half done but I can already say there are many great insights into TPS. However, one of the insights has sparked up an old fire that I always seem to struggle with understanding as I have never been employed by Toyota.
Mike talks about how a Toyota assembly plant was staffed to handle about 1,000 andon calls per shift and they became very concerned when the calls dropped to 700 per shift. Toyota found that this could only mean two things: 1) people are not calling for help or 2) they were experiencing less problems. In the first case everyone was reminded that they are to pull the andon cord for ALL problems. In the second they reduced inventory buffers to put further stress on the system so the andon calls would increase back to the correct levels for their staffing. Needing more problems is a great problem to have!!!!
Now imagine a place where problems are not visually obvious at the source. Problems are detected after they have moved downstream. The choice is to run what you can with suspect materials or miss a shipment to the customer. Imagine a place where the staffing levels have been set based on ‘blocks of work’ analysis and the ‘blocks of work’ only constitute enough time to complete internally focused compliance and cost issues which were pulled off of a spreadsheet created in corporate several states removed from the gemba.
Back to the book, it also explains that you shouldn’t get “pareto paralysis” and you must work on every problem. Unfortunately, all of the companies I have worked in are nowhere close to the staff levels to work on “all” problems. I realize to accomplish this an organization needs to develop every teammate to be a problem solver so there are resources to work on these. However, in my experiences I have yet to be involved in an organization that had the capability to work on even 1/3 of the problems that arise daily. The operators are left to perform workarounds or we just accept the waste and added costs in the process.
If it is physically impossible to answer every andon call in order to work on every problem, is it best to fix the first one that comes sequentially? Then do work arounds and rework until we can respond to another one?
I have always used systems to prioritize what problems we work on whether it be pareto charts, value stream maps, or just plain standing in the circle. Once directions, or as Toyota Kata describes them, process target conditions, are established and the highest priority items are “fixed” and then we move on the the next most important challenge.
Working on all problems in the process would overburden the organization’s problem solvers. This would be a form of dreaded muri right? I’ve read and heard much about the Toyota staffing levels required to operate TPS effectively. Most range from 5 to 7 employees under each level of leadership position. Again, my experiences are more like 30 to 40 employees under a 1st line leader.
- What percentage of daily problems are organizations that you work in staffed to handle?
- What philosophies do you utilize to ensure you don’t introduce Muri to the problem solving teammates in the organization?
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