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Lean Litmus Test Question 3: What Will Your Team Accomplish Today?

This is the third question in a series of five questions I use to do a quick assessment of a company’s progress in its Lean efforts, as well as its receptiveness to it. (Read the second question here.)

The third question is

Can frontline leaders predict what they will accomplish on any given day, within a few percent?

This question is most applicable in offices, or when there is individual piece work on the shop floor. Most managers do a good job with managing assembly lines. They understand that all the positions need to be filled, and that output is dependent upon the speed of the line and how often fresh work is placed on the end. A similar structure seldom exists in other production situations, though. Most leaders can’t predict how many orders will be processed by a materials team, or how many wiring harnesses a team will produce. 

As with the other questions, this one’s power is not in the actual “yes” or “no” answer. The follow up questions are more telling. They uncover…

  • Whether there is standardization in processes. If there is no standardization, it is hard to predict what a group of people can accomplish in a given amount of time
  • Whether problems and special situations are anticipated and accounted for. Is production adjusted when there is a false fire alarm, or if a few team members are part of a project team? Or, is the team expected to make up time to get the work done? This is an especially significant problem if output is always the same regardless of problems. It means that either there is a lot of waste in the system, or that people aren’t following standard processes when they fall behind.
  • Whether there is an understanding of demand. If you can’t predict demand, it is hard to guess what will be finished at the end of the day. This becomes more significant as backlog of office work and inventory on the shop floor is reduced. Less of a buffer to absorb variation means  production has to match short windows of demand, not average demand.
  • Whether variations in staffing adjust the plan. Teams are seldom present for the entire day. Meetings, vacations, sick days, projects, and more all take people away from their desks and benches. As with the problems mentioned above, when capacity changes, the plan should change as well. If it doesn’t, and expectations remain the same, the team has serious problems.

In a nutshell, this question enlightens me as to whether the company practices daily management. Great companies are able to reallocate resources as needed. Think of how a grocery store opens up new lanes when the lines get longer, and sends the employees elsewhere when there is no queue. The same principle can be applied throughout an organization. This flexibility not only improves productivity, but also quality, as there is less pressure to cut corners when things get hectic.

***See the previous article in this series***

***See the next article in this series***

 

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