When I go down the deep, Alice-In-Wonderland-type, rabbit holes in my own learning, I often go to my library and find my well-annotated copy of Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System. There, I find the comfort of the voice of one of the fathers of the Toyota production system attempting to explain why and what the system is. It is there – in the midst of Ohno’s own words – that I can work on deepening what I know by exposing what I do to what he says.
Ohno, defines “andon” as
… a line stop indicator board…a visual control. When things are normal, the green light is on. When a worker wants to adjust something…and calls for help, he turns on a yellow light. If a line stop is needed to rectify a problem, the red light is turned on.
1)Ohno, Taiichi. Toyota Production System. Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, 1988. p 21.
I’m not going to argue that the andon isn’t for the line. It is. It is as little sub-system in the management system that allows someone to slow or stop a process in order to keep the process moving. It is counter-intuition at its best.
What I am adding to that definition is this: for every call for help from the line, the management process has to slow or stop in order to respond. Maybe that is obvious to you. If you’re like me, though, that idea took some time to sink in.
What does a call for help look like in your organization today. Is it an email to a director? A phone call to an executive? An agenda item for a weekly meeting? I’m assuming that for very critical problems – ones that have festered into that kind that could “eat your lunch” – the management team stops to get containment in place. But for the everyday kind of smaller problems, what happens? These are the equivalent of Ohno’s adjustments on the line, turning on that yellow light. What does your management system do to respond? And, how quickly does it happen?
I was visiting an emergency room in Canada a few years ago, where the chief medical officer had asked me to do some analysis and some training. He took me on a walk of the campus. When we got to his emergency room, I observed an alarming juxtaposition: a staff that appeared to be disaffected by the number of boarders in the hallways. When I asked about the situation, even the CMO had a laissez- faire approach: this was a normal condition that was difficult to resolve. I asked about the bed availability for boarders with orders. Again, he was unconcerned. The condition would subside by the afternoon. Did it seem unsafe to him? Yes, but it was an acceptable risk.
This is an extreme example where the management system was not responding to a clear “red light” situation. Unfortunately, I worry that a milder strain of that CMO’s virus of disinterest lurks, even latently, in some US healthcare systems.
Time to get to my point: to be better, you have to improve. To improve you have to solve problems. To solve problems, the management system needs visual controls so they can see when and where a problem is occurring and “flow” management to that problem.
That premise is sound and it respects Ohno’s definition.
But, there ‘s a rub. Even if healthcare teams had an andon or what some call a “stop the line” system, I’d have three very tactical questions for them:
- Can your management team stop? Have you provided enough space and time in your management team’s operation so they have time to solve problems? Or, have you filled their days with endless meetings and drive them to fatigue with deadlines that have to be met by working well outside of normal and healthy hours.
- Can your management team actually solve problems? Or, do they follow the normal pattern of fighting fires just to survive – to get to the next useless, agenda-less, objective-less meeting? Do they have a standard process for solving problems so if they’re unable to stop and help, someone else who has the same standard problem solving process can.
- Can they “get on the line” and do the work while the person who experienced the problem starts to solve the problem? Or, have they been so far removed from the value-making work that they’d create even more problems?
So, what’s a responsible team leader to do? First, carve out time across the board to give your management team time to respond to and solve problems. To do this, you may need to put some rules in place for meetings both for when they can be scheduled and for how they are to be conducted. This uncomplicated action will smooth out management process unevenness. (Think about how unevenly joined managers and leaders are when trying to schedule time to solve a problem: the time isn’t scheduled based on what the problem needs, it’s based on what shared time is available.). Second and consequently, standardize your problem solving process. Don’t overcomplicate it at first. Simply try to get everyone using the same steps to solve problems. Lastly, from the human perspective, get your priorities straight. Harm and potential harm should cause the management system to stop hard and stop fast. Anything less reveals your practiced values. It isn’t easy to transform patterns in management that have formed over decades. But, leader, if you won’t do something, who will?
Be better. Stay excellent.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Ohno, Taiichi. Toyota Production System. Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, 1988. p 21.|