Jidoka is the less-emphasized of the two pillars of the Lean House. Most people see the immediate impact of improving flow and reducing inventory. Jidoka requires a much larger mental shift in the way companies operate because it gives power to frontline employees to both stop production and to implement solutions.
Some Lean practitioners are fairly liberal in how they define jidoka. Most interpretations focus on abnormal conditions. A few practitioners also consider auto-shutoffs as a form autonomation. Others might overlap the response process regardless of whether a machine or human identifies a process. While it can be a bit confusing, don’t spend too much energy on the issue. Just make sure that the definition within your company is clear.
The real challenge to jidoka is not in finding a problem or even stopping a machine. It is in what happens next. An all too common response is that a well-designed machine stops when a problem occurs, but the operator simply clears the issue and restarts the machine. It is surprising how often I have heard something similar to ‘That happens all the time’ when I watch a machine stop for a problem.
The key to success in continuous improvement is this: Quickly and relentlessly fix the problems you discover. I’ll say it again. Fix the problems you discover, now. Far too often leaders focus on the big gains and devote their continuous improvement efforts to big projects when there are many, many small issues that need fixing.
This fix generally comes in two steps. The first is the stopgap—implement an inspection step or a test station immediately. You won’t likely solve the problem immediately, but you can get the line back up and running after a problem is discovered.
The second step is the more refined problem solving approach. This entails root cause analysis to determine the exact origin of the problem, and implementing a permanent solution to prevent any future recurrence. This step requires discipline. You have to instill the attitude that it is not OK to allow a problem to recur.
It is your responsibility to provide the resources to make the fixes, though. You can’t expect teams to fix problems if they are unable to break away from production work when necessary. In addition to resources, you also have to make sure your team has the skills to do the things you are asking of them.