To maximize improvement opportunities, we need human andons

Mike Wroblewski
Tags: lean manufacturing

With my last Lean Manufacturing Journal article on andon lights, I pointed out the seemingly widespread misuse of this simple visual tool. More importantly, we don’t stop to fix the problems and problems remain hidden. Andon lights are just tools. The real mission is the quick identification of all the interruptions to process flow and the speedy countermeasures to prevent the problems from occurring in the future. What we really need is human andons.

How many times do you or your employees see a problem and quietly fix it?

Is this the right thing to do?

Did you really fix the problem so it does not appear again? Or, did you just fix it this time?

Is the company in a better position by this approach?

Do these problems show up again later in the day? Tomorrow? Next week?

What if, starting immediately, every single employee in your company with every single task and every single process takes on the additional role of human andon by identifying every single occurrence of interruption to the flow?

Would you be surprised by the results? It is a little overwhelming to think about the potential staggering number of flow interruptions our employees deal with every single day.

But think of all the opportunities for improvement? Call it kaizen heaven.

For some lingering reasons from the traditional management school of thinking, we do not welcome the news of problems. We prefer to hear only good news. We glorify news of some miraculous feats of managerial leadership that “pulled out all the stops, to muscle the order through the shop” but don’t talk about the problems encountered and countermeasures to prevent them. We still are caught up in placing blame for problems.

Until we remove the current equation (Problems = Blame) from our mind-set and replace it with the lean thinker’s equation (Problems = Opportunities), we can not go forward on our journey.