Sunday, June 24, 2007

Toyota Way Fieldbook (Part 2)

Previously, I described the "continuous improvement spiral" that I read about in The Toyota Way Fieldbook. The four steps involved with the spiral are: 1) stabilize, 2) create flow, 3) standardize, and 4) level incrementally. Now, I'll delve into the first step a little further.

Stabilizing a process means getting it ready for the rigors of flow. Instability can show up in many forms, including:

  • machinery breakdowns ("the foam-seal machine frequently breaks down")

  • employee problems ("we always have one guy out every day")

  • poor quality ("we've always got one guy on the back line working off gigs")

  • disorganization ("my air hose is usually over there, but somebody took it")

  • shortages ("we always run out of the right color of formica")

Unstable processes are not ready to be challenged by flow, so the initial focus has to be on stabilizing a process. So, how do we do this? According to the Fieldbook, the first step is to "stand in the circle" and observe the work. From this, you should be able to define the basic steps of the process, record the cycle time for each step, and draw a picture of the work area and the movement of manpower/material within it. This type of analysis puts you in a good position to identify "no-brainer" improvements. Once this initial low-hanging fruit is plucked, you can use workplace organization (basic stuff) and 5S (a little more advanced), and other tools to further eliminate waste. Once multiple operations/processes are stabilized, then you can connect them together to create flow. Flow should not be attempted before processes are stabilized, because the risk of failure would be great.

Are your processes ready for flow?

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