Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Spirit of Andon

"Andon (アンドン, あんどん, 行灯) is a manufacturing term referring to a system to notify management, maintenance, and other workers of a quality or process problem. The centerpiece is a signboard incorporating signal lights to indicate which workstation has the problem."

All of you lean thinkers know that at one time, any person working on the line at Toyota was given the power to stop the line anytime they noticed a defect. It was a catastrophe if a defect was 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. 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 if 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. A 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.

 On a much smaller scale, how willing are we to "pass problems along." If a customer complaint comes in today, does it take 12 minutes to work through a PDCA cycle or two? Is there the level of urgency to do this? Does it happen by the end of the day? 

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 seperate department (silo) is forced to do this, it can take way too long. 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....just refuse to pass any problems down the line.  


  1. Use A-3 with a video or camera shot of the process. In freeze frame, one may be able to
    "see" or measure the issue more clearly. With current technology, this can be "sent" from a long distance electronically to anyone who can work towards a solution.
    "Change your vantage point."

    1. Thank you very much for that Steve. Great point