My first manufacturing experiences were with two different multi-billion dollar manufacturing companies who happened to run massive ERP systems meaning we had massive MRP systems running the shop floor. Sound familiar?
Anyhow, as a young lad out of college I just assumed this was how everyone operated. I also assumed everyone dealt with the issues of the “system” saying there were 150 widgets on the shop floor when, in fact, there were only 78.
As an aside, I once remember a conversation I had with a production control manager who assured me we had enough parts to complete a particular job. In fact he vehemently pointed to his monitor and said, “Look, we have over 300 parts!”
I was younger then, and less politically correct than I probably should have been, and went on to explain that I didn’t give two you know what’s what his computer said… I was just down on the floor and saw with my own eyes that we had less than 100 parts!
Go to Gemba
Well, after convincing him to get up out of his chair we went to the floor together and he saw that I was right.
I wish I could say we turned MRP off and implemented heijunka and world class kanban loops… but, alas, we didn’t.
It wasn’t until later in my career at another company that I saw how well kanban can work when implemented properly – the key words being implemented properly.
You see, I have also witnessed kanban failures and it’s not pretty. Not pretty at all.
5 Things to Verify Before Implementing Kanban
With this said, here are five questions I would strongly encourage you and your organization ask before attempting to implement kanban.
- Do you have the necessary in house expertise? In other words, do you have someone on your team that has worked with kanban before? If not, I would encourage you to seek help from outside resources. Hire some help or go visit some companies that are successful and do some intense benchmarking.
- Do you even need kanban? Here’s a dirty little secret… kanban is not the end all, be all to a lean system. In fact, if your company’s information and material flows smoothly from the moment you take the order until you ship and collect cash… rock on with your bad self! You probably don’t need kanban. Continue to focus on improving flow and reducing lead-time.
- Do you understand what heijunka is and why it’s closely connected to kanban? Attempting to implement kanban without first leveling and smoothing production is absolute suicide. It’s like trying to run a marathon with a clamp on your nose and duct tape over most of your mouth.
- Is your production process stable? If you are producing defect after defect or your machines are constantly breaking down you must address this first.
- How are your changeovers? If you are to level and smooth production via heijunka (see above) quick and efficient machine changeovers are highly recommended. So start here if needed.
Now, these are just 5 questions to consider. I am not pretending to assume this list covers everything… but it does include 5 questions you should definitely contemplate before attempting to implement kanban into your production system.
What do you think?
Do you agree with my list? Would you add anything? Do you have any kanban success stories or, gasp, horror stories? If so, what went right? What went wrong?