Starting Point of Work
Updated: Sep 28, 2022
Here, I want to put the spotlight on something that is important but not discussed frequently.
That is “Starting Point of Work.”
This is on the top corner of the standardized work documents. I didn’t think of this as necessary; instead leftover from bureaucracy. But, as I visited many plants, I started to believe this is something that makes a big difference.
“Starting point of work” is confusing. Many think where we enter the workplace and scan the badge is that point. It is not. Just because we are in the workplace does not mean we are working. It is the “entry point.” Another confusing one is the “meeting point,” a location & time where we gather to meet before the shift starts. In many cases, right after the meeting, work does not start. I had this opportunity to watch a shift start in a hospital. Doctors and nurses met and discussed. Then they scattered. A nurse walked toward the portable computer. After logging in, she left to search for something. A different doctor came and logged on to the computer and walked away with it. A few minutes later, the nurse returned and started searching for the computer. The nurse could not find it. Then the nurse tried to log on to another computer. No luck. The battery is empty. Try again…… Did the nurse ever reach the “Starting Point of Work”?
The “Starting point of work” has to be where the standardized work starts. The exact location and time need to be defined.
The negative impact of an unclear “Starting Point of Work” is not just lost time. However, the amount of that lost time might be more significant than we think. Another side effect of an unclear “Starting Point of Work” is “Quality.” At the same hospital, the nurse came to our room. It introduced itself and passed a medicine. We asked what this was, and the nurse told us that taking it twice daily is necessary. We told the nurse that we had just had one an hour ago. The communication or the hand-off did not go well. Is it the patient’s responsibility to be the poka-yoke? Another impact is the “Culture.” Does anybody want to start the day like the nurse? What is sad about an unclear starting point of work is that there are always people who take advantage of its unclearness. People will disappear. But this is not entirely their fault. It is unclearness that attracts the behavior.
So, is the “Starting Point of Work” clear at your place?
Just because we set the “Starting point of work,” the work will not start on time.
When this happens, I hear comments like “It is because of the culture” or “We need to discipline the people.”
The truth is that it is not culture or discipline. It is because the “Lines” are not there.
What are the “Lines” to start the work?
Above, I mentioned the “entry point,” “meeting point,” and “starting point.” Connecting these points will create a line, the movement of the worker. The best thing to do is observe how the people move at the genba—any location where people form a line should become the subject of improvement. We should consider adding capacity to such bottlenecks as parking, badge scanners, toilets, lockers, etc. Another option is to decentralize such locations.
One exciting approach to this movement was that the factory used this movement to shift the mentality of workers from the outside world to inside professional mode. They asked a worker to walk a route at some rate. If the rate is not met, they need to walk again. It sounds like a waste, but the management saw this as a daily culture transition, which is necessary.
Other kinds of lines are the tasks. People don’t just move around. They need to complete tasks. They must change clothes, wash their hands, do stretching exercises, etc. Big or small, the size of the tasks does not matter. We need to define those tasks that need to start the work must be specified. Unclear tasks will create confusion among people. There will be a problem of forgetting, and it requires some downtime after work starts. Once these tasks are defined, we can set the time of those tasks. “Time is the shadow of motion.” Every task should have time.
One important thing to think about is that we should not add tasks that are not necessary. For example, some people love to keep overproduction as part of the start-up. They say this makes work easier. But this makes the original standardized work more uncomfortable. Working in one rhythm throughout the shift helps keep quality & fatigue. We should not allow such overproduction. Another example of lousy start-up tasks is that some factories ask operators to get materials as much as possible during start-up. Material is in constant use during work hours. Temporary stockpiling unstabilizes material flow and hides problems. It is better to have a material handler who delivers materials constantly. Never include any part of the cyclic work of someone in the start-up.
We can go to the next step if these “Lines” are clear.
Many professional athletes have “Routines” to prepare for the game. It could be during the week, before the game, or during play. Some are superstition and not scientific. But many are standardized ways of controlling mindsets. Why not have standardized methods to start our work?
Once you have the starting point & lines to start the work, we can form these into an area, the standardized work.
Compare against allocated time for start-up
Once the tasks and their times are determined, compare them against the allocated time. I have been to places where the total time for the tasks exceeded the allocated time. It is not possible. Adding allocated time more than the current will negatively impact the cost. The better solution is to Kaizen each task so that the total time will be lower than the allocated time. It sounds simple & basic. Yet, many places are missing this kind of comparison.
Sequence and timing of work
The sequence of work for the start-up is essential since from the entry point to the start point might be long and complex. Ideally, you don’t want people walking back and forth inside the factory. They should move in one stroke. Factory layout should have a design that allows people to move flawlessly.
Timing of work is also crucial since some tasks require a lead time to complete. Suppose there is an absentee and a substitute worker (later is rare). The manager requires time to determine which substitute to go to and where. The manager must ensure that the substitute has the necessary skills to cover the absence. The reserve must physically move to the station. For these reasons, the need for a replacement must be reported early in the start-up. Otherwise, we will not start the work on time even if the resource is available.
The in-process stock of tools
The in-process stock also applies to start-ups. In previous examples, I mentioned the nurse searching for a fully charged computer. Fully charged batteries are becoming new necessary in-process tools. We must allocate enough time for the battery to charge. Most likely, time from the last use until the start of work is insufficient time to charge. If so, we need additional sets of batteries. Besides computers, scanners, electronic tools, forklifts, and many other tools require batteries. Allocating sufficient charging stations close to the start-up movement is a need today. Some tooling requires maintenance after each use. The rules are the same for such tools.
I mentioned this walk of transition from outside culture to professional culture. Many Japanese factories use “Radio Exercise” to stretch and transition into professional mode. Instead of going through the chaos of figuring out where to start and what to do, standardized start-ups help people get into a professional manner.
"Standardized work" is not just a production thing. I am not just talking about the application. The construction of good standardized work requires participation from management and all functionalities. "Standardized work" is a summary of good leadership and multifunctional cooperation. When management & multifunctional staff work together with the production, we can have good standardized work.
Let's look at the "Body" of standardized work to complete the topic of starting work.
There was this factory where we were working on standardized work implementation. One day, people on the shop floor looked confused. When I asked them what was going on, I found out that the quality department left a list of roughly thirty items that each process must inspect before the shift starts. The quantity and content of the work are unbelievable, but most inspections mainly focus on incoming parts. Why was it necessary for the customer process to do an inspection? Also, what good does it do to inspect incoming goods before the shift starts? Fortunately, the quality manager was an open-minded person. The manager mentioned that the quality team has panicked with the poor quality of incoming materials, which led to such behaviors. We worked together to decide what was really needed on the assembly side. At the same time, the quality team established temporary countermeasures to stop the bad incoming material quality.
When you think about the start of work, a worker must complete multifunctional tasks.
Here are some of the potential tasks;
Labor Absentee & substitute allocation
HR news, celebration
Quality check (Dummy test)
When multi-functions and managers do not care how to complete these multifunctional tasks and push them to the shop floor, we create chaos.
This does not mean that we should not add multifunctional tasks. The management needs to understand the importance of adding the task. Then the shop floor needs to Kaizen the current standardized work. At the same time, functions need to summarize and realize the concepts. After all, the collaboration of the "Body" is the only way to make the standardized work function.
TPS says that the "Shop floor is a mirror of management." If we see contradictions between different functions on the shop floor, we must challenge the current structure of management.