Cross Training in a One Piece Flow Cell

I am working through the backlog of Ask Gemba questions. Bas asked:

In a one piece flow cell that is fully loaded with customer demand, how can new people be trained, without creating significant flow problems? Operators are moving with the work from station to station, so when deploying a new employee to the line, the total output is suffering until the employee has progressed on the learning curve. How are lean companies dealing with this issue?


Hi Bas,
It is probably not realistic to expect productivity not to drop for a short period while cross training or bringing on a new worker. Training is always an investment in people. Companies that don’t see this pay in other ways, such as lower overall productivity, quality problems downstream or even safety issues.
in a fully loaded line there are probably minor line stops and other problems that need to be addressed each day. How are these being handled today? There should be a local team leader or someone to support both problem solving and training. In order to avoid flow problems the team leader or supervisor will need to be with the new person to make sure that the line keeps moving. Training people is one of the main responsibilities of the team leader.
The fact that operators are moving with the work is a problem for cross-training. This “rabbit chase” type of cellular work flow is not really suited for cross-training. Unless the work is very simple and the cycle times are very short, it will take longer for the new worker to learn all operations in a cell where workers move with the work. And even if the cycle times are short, everyone else doing the rabbit chase in the line will be paced by the new person who is slower. Since they are not at a single (or limited number of) stations, it is harder for the trainer to stay with the trainee or help them keep pace with the tak time (pace) of the cell.
Lean companies invest in people. The team structure should allow the team member to have time to train and develop the team members. Some lean companies have entire production lines in their training centers where workers spend hours or days practicing the basic skills needed to be competent before going into the line. The goal is to make the training more effective so that losses is minimized, not to cut back on training now and pay later. Lean companies think long-term.

3 Comments

  1. John Hunter

    November 29, 2009 - 7:11 pm

    Well said. Lean is not about eliminating costs. It is about reducing waste. Costs can be very sensible. And investing in training is wise. The problem with that last statement is you can certainly waste money and time on poor, or useless, training. You must evaluate what is important within the context of your system and respect for people, long term profits, continuous improvement…

  2. Ericmo

    November 30, 2009 - 8:54 pm

    Most if not all Toyota companies have training center facilities equipped with production equipment that simulate operation and is used to train new members or to cross train members in the basic skills of a particular process before they are assigned to the actual production work. This improves right away the efficiency at the first exposure of the new member in the actual operation. It is then supplemented by the training (Toyota Job Instruction) that is conducted by the team leader at the actual production work site. Any changes at the process in production line are reflected and feedback to the training center for curriculum update. This helps pick up the learning curve and efficiency of the new member.

  3. George

    December 14, 2009 - 9:04 am

    Agree with Ericmo and the other answers. The reality is that many companies do not have the maturity nor they have the resources of a specialized training center facility.
    The suggestion I have is to start by having a robust system for developing, updating and keeping current all the SOPs for each individual job. I have seen companies taking advantage of well developed and maintained procedures, although they did not have a fully developed Lean system. In general, I would almost consider the associates’ training based on a robust system – including off-site, in-site as well as on the line training – almost as a pre-requisite of any Lean effort. In fact, the SOPs have been always part of ISO quality requirements; they need only to be brought to the level expected in Lean.
    I have also seen SOPs evolving in short movies where experienced associates go through the process step by step explaining the critical points while their actions are recorded. That helped in the preliminary training so when the associate starts the on the line practice is somehow familiar with the most important activities. That is an affordable alternative to full training centers that need different resources and financial power to be sustainable.