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  • The production doesn’t stop even if there are many problems.

  • The production stops without the intention of the management.

  • The production stops with the intention of the management.

  • The production doesn’t stop because there are no problems.

  • The production stopped because it was challenging.

Which stoppages do you have?

  • The production doesn’t stop even if there are many problems.

I visited this production that continued to produce even with many problems. As I walked the shop floor, I observed that each station had at least two of exactly the same machines. I asked why they had two; the answer was that one was a backup machine. They proudly showed that their “OEE” was high. So I asked again if one machine is a backup and is not running at any given time, shouldn’t the “OEE” be 50% or less? There was no answer.

By the way, I was invited for that tour by the management since they were struggling with high costs.

To some degree, traditional thinking has idealized this fantasy of having a production that never stops. To accomplish such goals, they added people, machines, warehouses etc. I heard about a plant with half of its line doing inspections and repairs. If we don’t have to worry about the cost, maybe we can design a perpetual producing factory. In the real world, such factories will eventually lose competitiveness in the market.

  • The production stops without the intention of the management.

From the above ideals, harsh reality kicks in, and many suffer from stoppages. Yet, as problems happen, they start to get used to downtimes. They start to use the historical output to define “capacity.” Such calculations represent historical performances, not capacity. Therefore, daily “management” are repeated gambles. There's no logic or science to believe that tomorrow’s performance will be better or even the same. Yet, we gamble again. It is like trying to win a sport by reacting only by looking at the scores, without any preparation practices. You will not win. Or you will talk about that miracle victory that happened once. (Like my hole-in-one.)

Offen such condition requires higher management support to get out of firefighting. Some managers think that firefighting is their responsibility. They don’t know any better way. Or let them talk about the real problem. In some cases, they are not allowed or think they are not allowed to mention the real problem. In a factory, they were suffering from materials not arriving on time. The production was told they could not discuss material issues since their boss also managed the supply chain. There are “taboos” in organizations, and sometimes that is protecting the problems more than the people.

  • The production stops with the intention of the management.

From here, the Toyota production system changed. They intentionally stop production to highlight a problem. Create pain in the management so that they can manage better. They stop so that people can learn from it. Make no mistake. They hate downtimes. But they know they will repeat the same mistakes if they don’t feel the pain. So they create pain and not have repeated downtimes. I have met many Toyota people who mentioned how they stopped the line once and what they learned from it. One guy told me his worst downtime caused two hours to go down (introducing a new component). I responded that we have two hours of downtime daily in the line we are working together. We shouldn’t get used to that condition. We need to reach a higher level.

  • The production doesn’t stop because there are no problems.

This might sound contradicting to what TPS is saying, but that’s what good lines look like. This is accomplished not by adding resources but by Kaizen and standardizations. All resources of man, machine, material, and methods have clear followable standards. For example, absentee is very small. People need to submit vacation plans weeks ahead. If they can’t show up on the day, they need to call before the start of the shift. The shop floor management carries a highly cross-trained workforce to cover for such happening. And, what is more important, is that through daily Kaizen, the workforce feels social belonging to work at the place. Like many sports coaches, the management’s responsibility is to prepare. They know that good preparations results in good performances. When they did have a bad performance, they understood the root cause and improved the standard. I remember a VP coming to the shop floor after several months of improvement activities. He commented that he didn’t know that the production could become so “quiet.” The shop floor was filled with sounds. Yet, people and machines were constantly moving. We didn’t hear a yell or crashing noises. They monitor KPIs, but he came to hear confirmed that the KPIs are not fake. Production is like a beautiful orchestra.

  • The production stopped because it was challenging.

“We are in embracing conditions with high downtimes.” Mentioned the plant manager. And we went to the problem area.

Here, the group leader explained what was happening.

“Customer demand is up by 10%. We took this opportunity to make some changes to reduce the labor here by 10%.” The leader explained that some of the labor required additional training. Additional Kaizen was required to create better motion. “And we have been hitting takt for the last two days, so we will continue making more Kaizens.” And the plant manager was asking more questions about how they could have prepared better for such change.

When we challenge, we do make mistakes. Sometimes uptime means no challenge, which means disaster for the future. We should have some downtimes because we are challenging. Of course, such challenges should be done with some extra resources not to impact the current plan. But having 0 downtimes is not necessarily good. Creating a good challenge is a leader’s responsibility.

Which stoppages do you have? At least, there are many stoppages, and simply following numbers won’t provide the whole story. We need to go see the stoppages.

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