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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: the right IT system will bring us closer to one piece flow and support kaizen

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Friday, September 3, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

If we think of the material and information flow diagram then IT is dealing

with the information flow.  When we physically transform a process by moving

things around we are acting on the material flow. When we transform the

information presented to help make decisions we are dealing with IT whether it

is in the form of an empty space on the floor, a card, or something from a

computer. The concept of value stream mapping is to design the material and

information flow intentionally based on defined principles to achieve a clear business purpose.  One principle isthat one piece flow is the ideal.  Another is that the value of people is in doing kaizen which requires information at the right time, right place, and right amount to facilitate kaizen.  When we think of things this way then it is natural to want to shape your IT to fit your principles and process.  In other words if the IT department comes to us with their new whiz-bank linear optimization scheduling package that will tell us exactly where and when to move every thing we could ask whether it: A) is moving us further toward one piece flow and B) it is supporting people doing kaizen.  If the answer is no

to either question we could reject it as anti-lean or we could ask if we can

use it more effectively.  We might do this by asking why it fails to support

people or one-piece flow and whether we can change something to enable this

effectively.

At one office furniture maker they made hundreds of thousands of

end items and had a policy of build to ship complete orders of all the pieces of

furniture someone wanted.  The old system was MRP building individual pieces

in batches and trying to mix and match to find what the customer wanted.  They

developed with a third party an optimization package that would look at all

the orders coming in, look at their capacity, look at the parts they had in

the warehouse, and build a schedule to optimize throughput and minimize the

lead time for whole orders.  If sales committed to a builder that all their

furniture would be at a certain site on a certain day that could be specified

in the software as a constraint.  They organized around work cells by product

type and each cell had a computer screen.  They worked hard to customize the

screen design so it was very easy to see the current order being worked on and

what was up next.  Parts coming from the warehouse were pulled one order in

advance and staged in sequence.  For the parts coming from the warehouse they

developed a parallel card-based system so you could visually see if the things

that were supposed to be there were in fact there and whether you would be

short on some parts.  If there was going to be a problem making a delivery on

time it would get flagged very quickly so the team could problem solve.  At

the front end the system told the sales person what they could promise based

on plant capacity and parts availability. The lean cells, visual kanban, and

optimization system worked wonderfully and this plant had almost perfect on

time delivery and very little inventory.  The point was to envision the

material and information flow and then develop the right IT system that

supported it in the right way.  Then continue to kaizen the IT system.

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