Skill of Job Instruction - Finding Patterns in Standard Work

A common criticism of Lean and standard work is that it cannot be applied to non-repetitive situations. Over the years, prior to and after having learned about Job Instruction, I’ve always tried to understand the source of this criticism. Although not a complete explanation, nor meant to be revealing of the nature of non-repetitive systems, this short article is meant to convey what I have learned so far.

First, the disclaimer: I’m speaking of the purest sense of standard work routines, those that incorporate the concepts of takt time, standard wip levels and a defined work sequence. Anyone that applies what I say here to another scenario runs the risk of misinterpreting what is written here.

So, let’s look at a classic non-repetitive task in the modern age: a machine tender or the classic machine operator. Pick your product and process as desired. In this case, the operator’s job is to run several machines that perform an intermediate operation on a high volume product. The operator loads material, performs quality checks, fills out paperwork, cleans the area and monitors equipment status. Of these many tasks, there may be a dozen sub-tasks underneath. If we were asked to tally up all of the things this person does in one day, it would number in the hundreds of tasks. In general the person knows what to do and how to do it. Then the problems begin.

“Clearing jams on one day is less on the next. It seems like when things go wrong, all you do is fight with the machine to keep it running. There isn’t time for any of the other things management wants done like 5S and Kaizen. Some days are met with hours of downtime. Scrap is high one day, so sorting is longer than normal. The problems are worse today than they were yesterday, so more time is spent with the mechanic explaining the problems. The second shift operator was so frustrated that he left the area a mess, increasing my time in cleaning.

"Monitoring the equipment is pointless, because adjustments will be made and once that machine is running; there is no point in monitoring settings that work, right? They are only going to change once the machine goes down again anyway. How is a person supposed to get all of this done in one day? The lean guys are coming in and saying we need to standardize this job? It’s a different job everyday! The only thing that is standard about this job is that some days you win and some days you lose.”

Here we see a pretty typical attitude towards the suggestion that standardization is needed. How can we standardize something that changes every day? The problem here is that we have lost our sense of what the standard job operation should be. We think that part of the job is “trying to keep up” but that isn’t what the job really is. Therefore the response to standardization is that the job can’t be standardized. Why is this the response? What if the lean guys came in and said instead that, “we should seven people work on this job simultaneously and do this job anyway they want, so it will reduce the lead time in getting the tasks done.” What would the response be then?

The problem is that when we think of the word standardization we think of a definite sequence or pattern. Since we don’t know the standard job operation, than we certainly don’t see any patterns for standardization or aren’t readily willing to admit that a pattern may exist; we just can’t see it.

My experience in getting people to see this through sheer will and some slight nudging has been as expected; a dismal failure. However, it wasn’t until people started attending my Job Instruction sessions that I realized, people are beginning to see the patterns of work. When a person writes a Job Breakdown Sheet for say, monitoring the process settings for an area, they see a definite work pattern; that is, there is a certain way to do it. When they write down a JBS on how to do a quality check, they see a definite pattern. We can then ask, how often should this be done? Where should it be done? This leads us to see the pattern of so-called non-repetitive work, by systematically breaking down the job into its smaller task elements, we see the tasks as discrete, with certain periods of time to perform them in and in a repeatable sequence masked by stoppages, non-productive work and other disruptions that we normally refer to as “just part of the job.”

The trick then, is to use first understand the repetitive work tasks using Job Instruction. This helps us classify productive work from non-productive work. Once we see the two types in their respective categories, you will be tempted to use process kaizen to create the standardized work routines. This could be a mistake because if you do have excessive stoppages, then you should conduct equipment kaizen next. Then the process kaizen will establish your standard work routines. From there, you may repeat the process of observing the work, making improvements through manual, equipment and process kaizen and locking in the improvements through standardized work and Job Instruction.

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