A flow of support, supports Flow

A flow of support, supports Flow

The andon concept (Japanese for “lamp”) is a crucial part of managing a Lean organisation as it helps to make problems visible and creates an urgency to resolve it. These colour-coded signals are often accompanied by peculiar alarms or music to draw attention to a problem.

Miller, Wroblewski, and Villafuerte, refers to the use of andon in their award-winning book, Creating a KAIZEN™ Culture “…when a team member can’t meet the standard, he or she is obligated to stop and call for help, perhaps by turning on the andon light.” This implies a clear understanding of the target condition (standard) before anyone can see a gap (the problem) in performance and people’s abilities. In other words, there is immediate feedback when a problem is identified.

Recently I read an article in Industryweek by Jamie Flinchbaugh on this subject and it prompted me to think about the purpose of andon in the bigger scheme of Lean things. It can be summarised as follows:

“A continuous flow of support, supports flow.”

The objective of becoming more efficient is to make everything required to create a product or a service, to flow: information, material, products, people, equipment, change-over tools, etc. Problems in a process, prevent Flow. We need to identify these problems and this is where andon should be applied as one of the problem-identifying techniques. If there is no immediate feedback when a problem occurs, and urgent attention is not given to the issue, the flow of information, material or people, will be prevented (see a previous blog on Feeding back Feedback). The result is muda (waste in a process) like people waiting, higher inventory, overproduction, more sign-offs, or excessive movement of materials and information) which will reduce the time spent on value-added activities.

Reduced Flow has a flow-on effect: increased lead times, lower quality, higher cost, lower staff morale, and more safety and health risks. Andon is thus an immediate feedback tool to enable the problem-solving tools so that we stop and fix the issues that impede Flow.

A few question to ponder on:

·        Is there a way you can use the andon to provide quicker feedback when problems occur?

·        Can people immediately identify a problem because a clearly defined standard, or target condition, is visible?

·        How committed is your organisation to address problems immediately?

·        Are staff members empowered to solve problems?

·        How can andon be applied in an office environment?

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