Just In Time Production 3️⃣ Problem-solving
When you jump off the cliff without a bungee cord, you don’t call it a “bungee jump.” You call it suicide.
So what is the “bungee cord” of Just In Time?
People who are capable of problem-solving.
How much of the current turbulence is caused by adding crises on top of daily problems that we didn’t solve?
When we implemented a Just In Time system, one of the functional managers at the plant freaked out. He quickly realized that his team’s traditional thinking was not acceptable. The thinking was that they always have problems. Nothing will be perfect. But that justified incomplete tasks, unclear standards, and insufficient problem-solving to the root cause.
“We must shift from 95% is good to 99%. No, I still have the old mentality. We must accomplish 100% of the tasks we defined.”
And the team did not do these slogans and pushes.
They defined standardized work. When they were delayed, they devised ideas to make work easier. “Why do we need to walk this much?” “Do we need multiple tools for these tasks?” The ideas flooded since every team member knew they made their work easier.
The manager and staff investigated every single problem. Typically, this resulted in a change in the standardized work. But they can’t just add tasks. To add, they had to make the current work easier.
The results were significant. Stability skyrocketed. The spaces where they kept the “safety stocks” were converted into new businesses and break areas for the people.
“My work has changed.” One manager explained. “I used just to count the impact of a problem and firefight. Now, I challenge problem-solving, even if that is not my function.”
Just In Time production requires stability.
At the same time, Just In Time production creates stability.
The stability comes from not adding inventories and costs. It should come from people who can execute proper problem-solving.
And “Problem-solving” should be the following.
The trigger of the problem-solving should be one problem. It is not “%” or the “top three issues.” It is not when there is data for the month, week, or day. It is when the problem happened. Problem-solving is based on facts. It is not a brainstorming activity. When the problems became data, most facts disappeared from the shop floor. Also, problem-solving shouldn’t take time. If problem-solving takes time, then it should be escalated in the organization, getting the help of higher management.
To accomplish this, we need the people closest to the problem to have problem-solving capabilities. People should have standards to follow, but as soon as a variation is detected, it should be considered a problem. The frontline management should come and observe to understand the facts. This doesn’t mean the specialist or the staff is comfortable sitting in the office. They are also highly alert to respond to any call from the frontline to support problem-solving activities.
The information from such problem-solving is quite helpful for the management to understand the capabilities of an organization. Both information on “What happened” and “What was the solution” is required. By looking at both, we can see the strength and weaknesses. “Why do we have so many machine issues?” “Are we relying too much on training?” Their roles highlight some of the wrong presumptions and biases within the organization.
This problem-solving capability of an organization is what managers need to develop as Just In Time production is implemented. This organizational capability should increase inversely proportional to the reduction in inventories and cost. This does not mean that we hire more people. It is about converting traditional “firefighters” into problem-solvers.
Quality that only shows defect data will focus on preventive measures on the shop floor.
Maintenance that only did repair work focuses on preventive maintenance.
Purchasing that ordered more parts just in case focus on the supplier development.
Production planning juggling orders hour by hour focuses on future demand changes.
Frontline management, who were running around like crazy, is focusing on training and improving standardized work.
It is the sense of urgency, but not panic. Every organization member should understand the roles & responsibilities and problem-solve in a situation that can’t be fulfilled. It is this organizational capability that a manager should carefully develop as Just In Time production is implemented. Without proper people development, the system will crash.
Yes, the pandemic and the war impact the supply chain. But did we have enough problem-solving capability? How much of the impact happened since the organization was keeping daily problems? Was the impact only due to the pandemic and the war? Instead of blaming Just In Time production, which is a simple philosophy of highlighting problems and solving them, should we rethink the organization's capability?