Job Shops, TPS, and Intuition

Recent work with a client brought home to me again the interplay of TPS (Toyota Production system) and intuition.

We were working on developing a job scheduling system in a classic job shop environment. We had worked out a rough value stream map from sales inquiry to shipping. It was clear that there was very little data anywhere. This was a small business environment where everything existed in the heads of the key players. The owner repeatedly asked when we were going to get to the job scheduling system and, “Mark, what is it going to look like and how will it work?”

I kept fending the team off by telling them that we had to push our mapping as far as we could and then, “The answers will appear from the map. It will be clear to all of you how to solve the problems.”dscn0971.JPG

So, we pushed ahead until we reached the point where we needed to develop a simpler sense of the flow of the work. When I asked the team to identify the key groups of activities among all of the ones on the wall, they readily came up with five and, with a bit more discussion, we ended up with seven work centers. Based on the group’s intuition we then designed some job packages and a rough scheduling board to help us put into practice a visual job scheduling system.

This system is now up and running. Improvements are coming regularly. For the first time in the history of this 22 yr. old business, everyone can see what jobs are on the floor, where they are, and each person can pickup a job packet and know what it is that needs to be done in their work center without asking for advice, very often.

The key for me is my faith, demonstrated repeatedly in action, that value stream mapping and job shop lean flow processes can encompass just about any job shop environment. If you follow these practices you will reliably discover a solution that will produce significant steps towards a high-performance business. And, the best part is that with your guidance (and keeping your mouth shut) the team will discover their own solutions that they can continue to improve long after you depart.