If you’re considering launching Continuous Improvement with a pilot project, you may be wondering where to begin. How do you know which project, of many possibilities, to choose? Most people would advise you to start at the bottleneck. While I agree that the bottleneck needs to be fixed, I don’t recommend starting there because the real cause of the bottleneck may lie elsewhere in your operations.
The Pacing Step
I suggest you begin with what’s called the pacing step. This is the last step before the product or service is delivered to the customer. All difficulties upstream will typically show up here, regardless of where in the stream the bottleneck occurs.
How it Works
Here’s an example. A client of mine, a company that does a lot of metal work, was certain that their bottleneck was the welders. In fact, they’d known for years that the welding cell was the bottleneck, and they weren’t sure they could ever change it.
The condition they wanted to shift was one of on-time quality. The pacing step in this situation was one assembler right before shipping. When we arrived at his department we found an array of parts laid out on the floor. When we asked if he was getting ready to ship, he replied that he couldn’t because there were parts missing, and when that happens he would typically go and do something else until the parts show up.
So here we have the waste of inventory of the parts lying on the floor, the waste of unused space, wasted time stepping over the parts, potential damage from lift trucks rolling by, and the list goes on. In fact, all the eight wastes of Lean were beautifully presented in this one situation.
In my next post I’ll explain how we found the real cause of the problem. It wasn’t where we thought it would be…
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