Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stop Playing "Whack-A-Mole" With Defects

One of my very favorite "8 wastes" is of course, DEFECTS. Defects stand in the way of flow by causing rework or scrap, 2 items you definitely SHOULD NOT put on the invoice. That's right, I suggest you should pay for them yourself, out of your profit.

A key principle of the Toyota Production System is to "Build a Culture of Stopping to Fix Problems". Sounds easy, pull the cord, etc. But it is much harder in practice. Without having this culture in place, often the more likely strategy is SHIP IT!! Or, more often, let's put the problem in inventory and we'll work on it later. Sometimes, later never comes until the customer orders the same thing again, and another defect occurs. I always felt like I was living the same problems year after year. I remember saying to my peers, "I thought we fixed that!!". It felt like whack-a-mole at the fair. (the game where they give you a mallet, and plastic moles keep popping up, and the challenge is to quickly hit them on the head before they go back down).

Enter A3 (self-directed work teams, scrum, whatever you call rapid kaizan). As a defect would rear it's ugly head, an A3 team would form led by the person closest to the defect (often the operator). The 3-5 people he would choose to be on his team might be another operator from the floor, an engineer, a quality person, and maybe a "wild card from the office". They would meet at gemba (where the problem occurred, not in the conference room, They would meet for 15-20 minutes per day for 3-6 days in a row, working through the A3 form (which is simply the DMAIC on paper), People did this dozens and dozens of times per year, and always had a "closing", where they shared their thinking with their peers. Something stupendous happened!! Suddenly, all they were working on were new problems. They were so good at root cause and implementing countermeasures, the freakin moles stayed down!!!

Over the past three and a half years, I have watched my clients use A3 to go after defects that have haunted them for years, if not decades. I wish you all could be at those closings to see the smiles on the face of the A3 leader, his peers, the Operations Managers to know that that mole is down for good.  

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