The other night I went through the drive-thru at Wendy’s. All the times I have gone through the drive-thru, I don’t know why it hit me this time….this is a great example of First-In-First-Out (FIFO). It struck me as to how well fast food restaurants execute this, some better than others.
An order is taken and it is produced in that same order and given to the car as they pull up in the same sequence their order was placed. I know this common, but what if a Fast Food restaurant operated in the same fashion a lot of our processes do. Say you pull up and order a value meal for you and a kids meal for your child. Then the next car orders only a soda and the third car only orders fries and a soda. What if the Fast Food restaurant told you to pull forward because they are doing the other orders first, because they are easier orders to process. We would get upset.
That is exactly what we do in most manufacturing environments. We skip jobs because the setup on another job is easier or it is a simpler job to run. Why? Usually because the setups are too long or complicated. Instead of working on the set up we just re-arrange the work.
I have been asked to pull up before. Not because they wanted to do an easier order but because there was a problem in the process of getting my order ready. The pulling up can be considered visual management for when something in the process didn’t go smoothly. Kind of like pulling an andon cord on a manufacturing line. I wonder if they measure how many cars they have to have pull up on a daily basis?
We don’t want to jump to FIFO just to be doing FIFO. The drive-thru made me think a little harder on it though.
What are your thoughts?
An example that is studied quite often is the andon cord on the Toyota production line. When an operator has an issue, they pull the cord and the team leader responds immediately. The team leader responds with the questions, “What’s the problem? How can I help?”
While andon is a tool that is associated with manufacturing, it is applicable anywhere. A great example was a team from Human Resources that I facilitated during a kaizen event to reduce the amount of time from department request to candidate offer for a new hire. During the Day One training, I explained the Toyota andon system in detail and the purpose behind it. Two days later, the team, which had no lean exposure prior to the event, came up with an andon system for their hiring process.
The team discovered during the product-process mapping exercise that it only takes a few minutes to review a resume and give feedback by the hiring manager but they had a range of 4 – 20 days to actually get the feedback from the hiring manager. The team decided on a reasonable reduced lead time for reviewing resumes and then designed a process to show when it was out of tolerance.
The process was as follows:
- The hiring manager had 48 hrs to give feedback on a resume when it was sent to them
- If no response in 48 hrs, an email was sent to the hiring manager and their HR representative with an additional 48 hrs to respond
- If no response after the second 48 hrs, an email was sent to the hiring manager, their HR representative, and the hiring manager’s manager with a response due in 24 hrs.
- If no response within 24 hrs, an email was sent to the same three people in step 3 stating the hiring process for that position has been put on hold and no more resumes or work will be done until they all meet on the current resumes in process
I thought this was a great way to show when a problem was occurring and when it was too far out of tolerance. It didn’t mean they couldn’t take longer to review. If HR sent the resume and the hiring manager replied that they were out of the office and would get to it by a certain date, that would be sufficient for HR. They would be aware of an abnormal condition and would running the process for that condition.
This was one of two main drivers to reduce the lead time on the process from 92 days to 43 days.
It shows how a manufacturing centered concept can be applied outside of manufacturing when the reason for the concept is understood and not just copied.
Last week, I got a refresher and a deeper understanding the lean principles as presented by the Lean Learning Center. One thing deeper understanding I got was around andon (or signals). We started the week off by doing a case study around Toyota. The case study introduces the andon system that is on the production lines at Toyota.
A quick overview of the system. When an operator has an issue, any issue, they pull a cord at the line. The cord sets off music and lights telling the team leader their is a problem. The team leader responds immediately and asks, “What is the problem? How can I help?”
The first time I took the class, 3 years ago, I learned to use sound with the lights. In case the team leader wasn’t looking in the direction of the lights, the sound would tell them the problem. I have used this thinking in the last three years to install a few andon systems.
For three years, I looked at sound and lights as a way to get the team leader’s attention. Here is the subtle difference that I learned this time. Use the sound to alert the team leader of a problem and the lights to indicate where the problem is.
I know this is very subtle, but had I taking this understanding in the past, I would have implemented some andon systems differently. In some cases, I did you sound and lights to alert and tell where, but that was purely by accident. In some cases, I used sound and light just to alert and the the team leader had to find out where. Having this small change to my understanding gives me a whole new perspective on signaling when there is a problem. It allows me to put in systems with even less waste now.
I know this may seem small, but it has caused me to go back think about the small things and WHY I do them. It has me questioning things I haven’t question in a long time or ever before. It re-emphasized the importance of why.
As lean thinkers, implementers, teachers, and coaches we should always be thinking about the why and gaining a deeper understanding.