Heijunka in the Front Office

heijunka-wheel.jpgIn the house of Toyota heijunka belongs in the foundation.  Sadly many people dismiss this critical lean concept explaining how it isn’t relevant for their business.

Heijunka which is properly pronounced (hey-june-kah) and not (hey-junk-ah) is defined in the Lean Lexicon – Third Edition as:

Leveling the type and quantity of production over a fixed period of time.  This enables production to efficiently meet customer demands while avoiding batching and results in minimum inventories, capital costs, manpower, and production lead time through the whole value stream.

We normally hear about heijunka in the manufacturing environment.  Assuming a factory can change over their machines in an expedient manner (a prerequisite for heijunka) a leveled production system may look something like this.  Note that (c) stands for changeover. 

  • AAA (c) BB (c) C (c) AAA (c) BB (c) C (c) AAA (c) BB (c) C

Compare this to the way a mass producer would likely approach this same demand structure keeping in mind their changeover time is likely much greater when compared to the lean producer.

  • AAAAAAAAA (c) BBBBBB (c) CCC

But what about the front office?  Can we apply the same, or similar, idea in the land of cubicles?  Definitely.  Let’s see how.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by using a heijunka wheel as shown in the picture above.  In the wheel we can place the work, normally in folders, to be done in the slots in a leveled and balanced manner. 

For work that needs to be done daily the labels along the top (the pitch) may be noted, for example, in hours or 30 minute intervals.  For work that needs to be done weekly we may note the particular day (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) on the label.

Another powerful approach is to place all the folders “in process” in an upright position.  Then, once the work has been completed lay the folder on its back.  This is a powerful visual control that lets anyone and everyone that walks by the heijunka wheel see how things are going. 

We can also store, within the heijunka wheel, standard work instructions, training records, and other documentation. 

The benefits of using a heijunka wheel are many.  Some of the most obvious are that people know what they are to do and when to do it.  There is no more guessing or wondering what to work on next.  And if an individual falls behind they will know it immediately and can ask for help before really impacting the entire system.

Photo Credit: 1

4 Comments

  1. B.D.

    June 5, 2007 - 11:02 am

    You’re talking about HOW to do heijunka, but I’m not seeing WHY. You talk about “people will know what to do” but that’s the case with batching — you just do another one just like what you did.

  2. Ron

    June 5, 2007 - 12:42 pm

    Let me answer your question in my next post rather than trying to do it in this comment box. Thanks for great question.