Lean Lessons From My Mum
It's a bit of a sitcom stable, the main character comes out with a comment or a put down and then gasps, the hand goes to their mouth and then they utter that terrible phrase... Oh no! I sound like my Mum! (or Dad as the case may be), the audience laughs, and our lead character looks both stunned and a little worried, are they in fact turning into their parents?
Of course, to some extent we all will to one level or another, after all our parents are a big influence in molding our life, our thinking and how we talk!
It Just Fell Out My Mouth
Never Start What You Can't FinishMaggie Watt
The reason I'm reflecting on this is that the other day I was discussing a factory flow issue with a client, they had been trying to increase output but as always happens lots of little things keep getting in the way.
As we walked the floor discussing potential areas of impact, we came across a pile of work in progress that was tapped off and taking up probably around 5 square meters of floor space. "This isn't helping either" my client said, so I asked what it was. As it turns out this was work that they had started, knowing that the design wasn't complete and the parts were certainly not all here for, in fact some hadn't been ordered. They started it to keep people busy and the 'get a start' as they were sure they would eb busy later when the stuff came in.
Before I knew it out came the phrase, "never start what you can't finish!" It was a catchphrase straight out of my wee mum's playbook (she was only 5 foot at the best of times). I'm sure I blushed since that's what flashed through my head just as I finished saying it, I could actually hear her laughing in my head, but really when you think about it, it's really good advice.
The WIP Formula
Keeping people busy is possibly the worst reason for launching product into the production area, surpassed possibly only by we'll build stock just in case there is a demand. In both cases what happens in somewhere in the process flow things back up firstly at the bottleneck then the constraints, before you know it you are drowning in WIP.
There is a bit of a formula you can use when you think about throughput, typically if you half your batch size you double your throughput, you also normally increase your quality by about 10%. So, reducing your WIP around the floor is a really good idea. This is because smaller batches move through the factory quicker, since they are moving to the next operation quicker (smaller processing times) the quality issues that have escaped from the previous operation (they shouldn't but they will) can be caught quicker so you have less rework and you can fix the problem quicker, hence the quality improvement.
Obviously though, if things are sitting around the floor half done (and half designed!) you can't do either of these things.
Anything that you cannot convert to a saleable item is a liability, think about it, you have invested money in the raw materials and the labour, but you can't sell it. If you shut the doors tomorrow you wouldn't get that value back, you'd lose for sure. Plus, you may be financing this stuff as well so now you are paying interest. This stuff that you have started but can't finish is literally stealing capacity form products you can finish, and you can sell. Why would you do this? How does it make any sense? It doesn't!
Listen To My Mum
I always found, in the end, the best thing I could do was listen to my mum, and you should as well. Starting work on anything you cannot finish will slow your throughput, reduce your quality and delay other orders all of which directly impacts your cashflow. So the next time you have the conversation in your planning sessions about what to work on just remember my wee mum's advice - "never start what you can't finish!"
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