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Bruce Hamilton


Leader Standard Waste, Part Two

Who is accountable?

Published: Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 12:02

Many years ago, the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) introduced a visual measurement device to my factory, referred to as a “production activity log” (PAL), also known to some as an hour-by-hour chart. Posted at the last operation of a particular process, the PAL provided an up-to-the-minute accounting and hourly summary of actual production quantity vs. plan.

The far right column of this report contained the most important information regarding the process health. If the actual rate in any hour deviated either high or low from the plan, the cell lead was accountable for reporting the problem and either remediating the cause or flagging it for additional assistance. Causes for deviations, either high or low, were innumerable: missing parts, missing operations, defective parts, broken fixtures, incorrect drawings to name just a few. As vice president of manufacturing, I was accountable for reviewing the PAL documents daily to assure overall process health. My job was to confirm that the area supervisors were able to address problems as they occurred. We didn’t call it “daily management” and we didn’t use the word “accountability,” but it bore strong resemblances to both of these.

A production activity log (PAL)

Shortly after implementing the PAL, I was chastised by TSSC’s consultant: “If you looked at the PAL, you’d see that problems are not being fixed,” he said. “If you don’t care, no one will waste their time reporting.” At the consultant’s insistence I began to visit and initial PAL’s every hour, an activity that was stressful for me, but also incredibly informative. As I paid closer attention, a few previously unnoticed accountabilities quickly became apparent.


Visiting where the problem occurred. Design engineering was accountable for providing a basic work standard and drawings detailing the specifications, dimensions, and features of the part or product. When these were wrong or incomplete, production became guesswork and rework. Too often, this particular problem didn’t get fixed for a long time, or ever. Not until I visited the actual place where the problem occurred did I grasp the significance of “incorrect bill of material” messages.

Able to ask “Why?” No one seemed to be accountable for providing fundamental skills training to team members that were needed to do the work. Skills like welding or soldering, for example, were not always adequately provided, creating safety and quality problems. Ultimately, this observation led to greater care in qualifying special skills—no more on the job training. What might have been listed on the PAL problem column as “scrapped part” took on a much deeper significance when I was able to ask “Why?”

Standardized work that isn’t standard. Industrial engineers were accountable for developing and improving standardized work to balance the production rate to customer need and to confirm new standards with team members. What I learned when I looked more closely was that the various artifacts of standardized work were not always aligned with actual production and were not kept up to date. So-called “standard WIP” was not standard; sometimes there was a pile in front of an operation, other times nothing. In particular, the standardized work chart, which supposedly provided a visual image of the standard, was frequently out of date.

Fixing problems... or not. Area supervisors were accountable to visit at least hourly to provide support for problems that occurred in the previous hour. (Now I was doing this also in order to show commitment to the process.) Supervisors bristled at the idea that they were supposed to fix problems. “Every hour we have problems, and most of them I can’t fix,” an angry supervisor told me.

So what does this have to do with the visual controls on huddle boards, as discussed in Leader Standard Waste, Part One—the red and green dots that enable managers to assess the process health “at a glance?” Several things:
• First, if I, as a senior manager, had not gone to the actual gemba, I would have remained woefully misinformed about process health. All of the missed accountabilities noted above would have been summarized into red dots.
• Second, if I had not followed the process health on an hourly basis, I would have failed to grasp the importance of fixing problems instantly. They would have been batched for a daily huddle—and many likely would have been forgotten.
• Third, if I had not shown a commitment to understand the problems, as my TSSC consultant said, the front line would not have wasted time reporting them. They would have just muddled along... SOS.

In 1995, we referred to the huddle board as a “production board,” and it provided a valuable periodic summary of quality, cost, and delivery, often capturing trends that would not have been apparent on daily charts—for example, delays occurring at the start of a shift or the start of week, or part shortages occurring at end of month. But, for breaking news, we went to the gemba—the real place. And this is my concern about visual accountability as I often see it practiced today: It’s all about the huddle boards. When they are the only visual devices used by management, then the workplace becomes essentially invisible. Incidentally, a quick read of David Mann’s bookCreating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, Third Edition ( Productivity Press, 2014) will indicate that he intends huddle boards to be one of many visual devices, all of which must be functioning properly for the huddle boards to have any meaning.

As part of your leader standard work, do you get out to the real place frequently to “sustain new behavior” or do you simply visit the huddle board and risk sustaining the old behavior?


About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.