So you have officially declared “we are a lean company”. In a nutshell, this
means that you have set your business off in the direction of continuous
improvement through the elimination of waste.
In the beginning this is quite easy to do, there are labels to be printed, old
messes to get cleaned up, shadow boards to make, toolboxes to organize and
the ever important get everything off the floor and onto wheels. The factory is a
buzz with improvements and morale is riding pretty high. This will keep your team
busy for quite some time, but as you gobble up the low hanging fruit then what?
Perhaps your factory is a lot like mine. We set aside time for everyone to make
improvements each day before we begin working. As time passed fewer and
fewer people were actually making an “improvement”, in my opinion this was still
better than not doing it at all. It wasn’t until push came to shove due to higher than
ever demand, and what we would consider totally unacceptable lead time, did we
realize we needed to get a lot better at solving real problems. Don’t get me
wrong, we will never abandon our 3’s roots, but having 25 people wander around
the factory for a half an hour creating shadow boards and labels was not going to
get the job done. Our customers were losing patience and something significant
had to happen, right now.
When you walk out into any factory I’m positive we can all see waste everywhere.
Taking a shotgun blast at process improvements, (meaning everybody go fix
something) was a little too sporadic and slow, we wanted to know what
specifically had to be done to move the needle, and we want to put everyone on
that! We still wanted to empower everyone to provide improvement suggestions,
and a process to ensure we are implementing them. We were after a solution
that increased improvement suggestions, empowered people’s creative genius,
increased completed improvement projects and simultaneously allowed our
people more time on the production floor to add value for our customers.
Hmmmm…. Not what I would consider a small challenge!
Toyota has popularized creating what they call a “target condition”. This can be
related to anything, production numbers, cleanliness, training etc.… The
important part is that it is made very clear with the entire team and it’s someone’s
job to know why it’s not happening. This person’s function is to strive towards
removing any and all barriers between current state and target condition.
Typically everyone in the building is already too busy to add this role to their job
title as well. It does add one layer of indirect labor. I know what you’re thinking,
“this doesn’t sound very lean”. But just imagine what would happen when you’re
having improvements made every day that actually move the needle, it doesn’t
take very long to make up for a little bit of extra labour.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a scary move for us as well, however, I’m not into
re-inventing wheels, if Toyota says it works, then it probably works.
So what happened? Well since demand was high we made our first target
condition achieving takt time (rate of customer demand). Which was equivalent
to a little over a 25% increase in throughput. There is no question we all looked
at each other wondering if this was even possible. But in a worst-case scenario
we figured we’d learn something. We sure learned something, we learned the
power of setting a target condition and making it someone’s job to remove
barriers was a bit more powerful than we anticipated. We could not believe the
problems we discovered and just as surprising how easy it was to fix once we
knew exactly what they were. Within three days, not only was our first target
condition being met, we exceeded it.
The power of setting that target condition seems to be what it does for our brains.
It provides a crystal clear focussing mechanism for all of our improvement efforts.
In the past every morning would be a barrage of problems we needed to fix most
of them changing daily depending on what went wrong the day before. We would
talk in circles for 20 minutes and then nothing would get done. Now everything is
simplified, we only worry about what is in the way of reaching our target
condition. Everything else we will just continue to arm wrestle with, sooner or
later it will pop up as a target condition and will fix it then.
So if we were to break this down into actionable steps it would look something
Step 1: establish a target condition for a particular work area
Step 2: have a team leader monitor what’s actually happening. The minute
something happens contrary to the target condition, it’s their responsibility to find
out what happened, making detailed notes.
Step 3: Compile all of the notes on how many times you deviated from the target
condition and why.
Step 4: Pick The one issue that was the biggest offender and solve that problem.
Step 5: Rinse and repeat daily.
Remember only focus on the biggest offender don’t even worry about the rest of
them you’ll get to it. Cluttering your efforts with 15 things doesn’t take into account
the butterfly effect. As you solve each problem, other problems may arise or go
away, you don’t know until you step back and monitor again.
In the past two weeks my factory has solved three of the biggest problems that
have been plaguing us since day one. I almost feel unstoppable now.
A personal BHAG (big harry audacious goalI) is to understand how a factory can
get to zero defects, I never understood how this was possible, but for the 1st
time, I can see light at the end of that tunnel. This is our next target condition. I
have absolutely no doubt my team will figure it out.
There’s no reason your results couldn’t be similar, if you have any questions on
how to set this up, feel free to drop me a line I’m very excited about this and look
forward to sharing with the world.