Friday, May 11, 2012

Another sworn enemy of LEAN: Sign-offs

Over the past couple of blogs, I've talked about how two ways your computer can sabotage LEAN efforts by interfering with flow, specifically e-mail and MRP.

Today, I will cover another one of LEAN's arch enemies, SIGN OFFS! I define a sign off as anytime one person who has done some sort of work has to go to another person simply to get their John Hancock. When the second person signs his name or initials, he is saying he approves what was done, or sometimes simply that he was asked for his autograph. WHAT?@#$%? If this doesn't interfere with flow, I don't know what does! When considering the 8 wastes, it is at best OVERPRODUCTION and at worst OVERPRODUCTION plus INVENTORY (if it goes to a queue) plus MOTION, plus WAITING, plus UNDER UTILIZED PEOPLE, etc.

When mapping a process, and you see one of the steps is "someone has to approve something" or "sign off" on something, immediately commence digging. Ask why after why after why. Often, the sign off is required because of some catastrophic event that happened in the mid 70's, and it is assurance that will never bite us again. Or, the "signer" has special knowledge that the work doer doesn't. Or, the sign off is a way to get the work doer off the hook with regard to responsibility for that work.  Or, the waiting for sign off is required by an ISO quality system. Let's take a closer look at all four scenarios:
1. The catastrophic event that happened a long time ago. "Years ago, we made a terrible mistake and the customer got really pissed, and the sky turned black, and we lost over $300. Now, Fred signs off, and it hasn't happened since." I've seen situations where the co-signer, when asked why he HAS to initial someone else's work, will respond, "I don't even know why they keep bringing me those things, I wish they would step up and..." If you calculate all of the time over the years where work waited because of the famous event, can we at least say that many, many similar catastrophes have been narrowly avoided thanks to the sign off? WHEW!  If NOT, drop the sign off.
2. The signer has more or special knowledge-sort of a double checker. Simple fix. Do an A3 to TRAIN TRAIN TRAIN then eliminate the sign off.
3. In some rare cases, the work doer INSISTS that he/she doesn't want to take responsibility for something that may or may not happen, and they don't want their name on it because they don't want the possible catastrophe to come back to them. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Again, train, train train, then eliminate the sign-ff.
4. Your Quality system requires it. Well change your quality system documents to eliminate the sign off. Will the cops come and arrest you?

Ohno said to imagine your materials/orders/documents are like people-they grow impatient when they have to wait.  Also, non-value added activity is anything you can't invoice. Imagine a line item at the bottom of your invoice: "Double Check Charge ($5.00 each) x 5=$25.00. I bet your customers will quickly remind you how non-value added those sign offs are!

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