• Bill Greider

The Spirit of Andon: Solving Problems before the Trail is Cold

As football officials, we are taught to stop play and come together ANYTIME we think something doesn't look right. Misapplication of a rule, enforcement of a penalty-anything that just doesn't seem right !! It probably happens once or twice per game on average. We are drilled not to pass the defect down the line and talk about it in the locker room after the game.

All of you lean thinkers know that any person working on the line at Toyota is given the power to stop the line anytime they noticed a defect. It's a catastrophe if a defect is passed along. The thinking is we want to treat problems when they happen, not put them into inventory to be dealt with later, and we want the learning to happen as close as possible to where the problem is. (if you really think about it, the "trail" is getting cold even if the problem waits for MRB the next morning!) We have all heard stories about the line being stopped, triggering a very rapid Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle with a team quickly assembled at the line to quickly get an understanding of the current condition, work to root cause, and then implement countermeasures. All in 12-15 minutes. The idea is that the urgency created by stopping the line drives organizational learning. The spirit of andon is really about having enough ownership to confidently say, "hold on, this isn't right!!" 

Recent history is full of examples of catastrophes that would never have happened if someone with knowledge of a "defect" had pulled the cord. The space shuttle Challenger disaster, Chernobyl, Vioxx, and Hurricane Katrina are a few examples. People who could see imminent disaster felt powerless to pull the cord.  For example, any lab technician at Thiokol working on the O-rings, had they felt powerful enough, could have pulled the cord until it was very visible to everyone that the space shuttle launch needed to be delayed until they no longer leaked. The newest civil engineer could have pulled the cord by barging into the mayor's office insisting that the levees just wouldn't hold back a category 3 hurricane.

 How willing are we to "pass problems along? I have seen andon lights covered with rags because the operator gets tired of "pulling the chord" and nothing happens!

I believe we need to work up to this "spirit of andon", and A3 is the way to do just that. What if any complaint, defect, rework, scrap, safety concern etc. that happens this week goes on the A3 board within 24 hours, and has to be "closed" within 4 days?  That is, a leader is assigned, they recruit a 3-5 person team, and spend 20 minutes daily until it is solved using A3 thinking.....leveraging diversity and gaining agreement as they navigate through understanding the current condition, doing root cause analysis (5 Why or Fishbone), agreeing to a target condition and implementation plan, and finally teaching everyone else what they learned. Companies that do hundreds of A3s per year get better and better at solving problems....and "better" is code for "faster." If one person or even one department (silo) solves all the problems, it takes way too long. The trail is cold!!! Once you pull together the right cross-functional team, it happens much faster.

Lean is about learn by doing. If you are one of the growing list of companies using A3 thinking as your primary vehicle to do kaizen, try applying the spitrit of andon....refuse to pass any problems down the line.