Tips for Lean Managers

The Three Habits Required for Built-In Quality (Jidoka)

By Jon Miller Updated on April 2nd, 2021

As one of the pillars of the classic TPS house, jidoka represents two distinct but important ideas. The first part of jidoka or “automation with a human touch” involves the harmonization of people and machines. Humans should do human work and machines should do machine work. Automation without human intelligence requires that people watch over the machine to catch possible defects, or for no good reason at all. This is a waste of human intelligence. The second part of jidoka is that machines should be designed or modified to include human intelligence. This means machines should detect errors and stop autonomously, demonstrating human intelligence rather than only mechanical properties.

This idea began with the invention of the automatic loom by Sakichi Toyoda. The invention was inspired by watching his mother weave with the hand loom. He saw the need to motorize the human work but also to prevent the automatic loom from continuing to make bad material when there was broken thread. The sale of the patent for this invention allowed the Toyoda family to invest in the manufacture of automobiles.

Today the idea of jidoka is applied more broadly to mean that any process should be made to “work autonomously” rather than automated. Whether it is an assembly process, a nurse caring for a patient, or a customer service person entering an order, jidoka means giving the people and the process the ability to stop when there is a problem. The behavior to “stop and fix” problems is at the heart of kaizen.

Jidoka as a so-called Lean tool, or built in quality as a sub-system of the Toyota Production System is technically one of the easiest to implement and has a tremendous quality impact on quality. However, the successful implementation of built in quality requires people to adopt three habits. These are counter-intuitive habits, and there is the rub.

The first habit is to stop. This may seem easy. However, when for so many years we have been rewarded for looking busy and scolded for looking idle, stopping does not come naturally. Stopping a machine or stopping work when a problem is detected is a primary responsibility of any worker in a Lean workplace. It is the job of every supervisor or manager to facilitate this while making the processes unstoppable (more reliable).

The second habit is to call your supervisor. Once again, this may seem obvious but how many supervisors say “Thank you!” when they are summoned to the gemba, only to see that you have stopped to point out a problem? In a Lean organization, most, but in traditional organizations, too few. The method of summoning your supervisor should be obnoxious enough that it cannot be ignored. Andon lamps and buzzers work well, but my personal favorite is the pawn shop bugle no one on the line could play but brought the manager out of the office tout de suite when blown.

The third habit is to wait. What are we waiting for? Not the supervisor or manager to arrive. Not for the containment action to be taken. Not for the line to restart. We need to develop the habit of waiting until we have determined the root cause of the problem. Of course you can lend a hand at this, but there’s no need to rush off and keep busy in the mean time. It’s a learning opportunity, and what better way to teach problem solving than on the job with a real case?

Just as with many parts of the TPS, adhering to these three habits required for built in quality through “stop and fix” may be an ideal. If the workers can follow these habits, and management can support them, problems will have nowhere to hide.

  1. Craig

    November 20, 2007 - 6:03 am

    How Toyota Co. began streaming from the cash flow of the automatic loom is interesting as well as the three habits. Thanks

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