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Steven Spear

Steve Spear: The True North “Ideal”: A source of tension for continuous improvement

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

In Toyota thinking, there are at least two indicators that a problem is occurring that needs to be resolved.

— The first is a sign that the process is not in control and that the process is understood imperfectly.

— The second, the ‘True North Ideal,’ as we called it in “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System,” is a source of relentless tension for improvement and innovation–even when the system is capable and in control.
1- Specification, Built in Tests, and Problems as sign of gap between expectations and actual experience.

“Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System <http://hbr.org/1999/09/decoding-the-dna-of-the-toyota-production-system/ar/1> ” begins with an apparent contradiction between “rigidity” on the one hand and obvious rapidity of improvement and responsiveness that Toyota was able to sustain over decades.

The article resolves that apparent contradiction.

— “Rigidity” is only temporary–the declaration in advance of doing work how work is expected to occur, a capture of best known approach.

— Diagnostics (“built in tests,” as I came to call them in The High Velocity Edge) revealed that what is actually occurring in practice is not exactly what was specified in design.
These gaps between expectation and outcome can occur in the four levels at which processes are designed (See Chapter 6 of The High Velocity Edge <http://www.amazon.com/High-Velocity-Edge-Operational-Excellence-Competition/dp/0071741410/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302094187&sr=1-1>  for more elaboration).

Output: There is a gap between the output that was expected to be delivered and what is actually being sent (by mix, volume, or timing).

Pathway: What work, being done in what sequence, by whom, for whom is different than what was expected/predicted in the process design.

Handoffs over connection
: The content, format, or timing of material and information exchanges is different in practice than what was designed (including a non or wrong response to a request).

Activity work methods
: The work-content, sequence, timing, location, or result is different than what was predicted (as articulated in standardized work, cell design, etc.)
These gaps between design-predications and actual-practice:

— indicate that something is occurring unexpectedly (so the problem should be contained) and

— reflects some misunderstanding about how to succeed
(so the ignorance underpinning the problem should be solved).
2-The “ideal” is a more stringent trigger for improvement and innovation gained through disciplined problem solving and learning.

“The ideal,” as a concept I identified in my dissertation and TPS DNA article grew out of a recognition of how Toyota’s best explained how systems were designed and operated.  For example:

“Why do you have these line side stores of materials?”
Ideally, we would be able to provide what was needed, when it was needed, where it was needed, in the amount needed.
“However, the problem is that we cannot respond to line side need so quickly.
“Therefore, we created these line side stores as a countermeasure to create the impression of on-demand and immediate service.
“However, these line side stores remind us that we still have to solve problems so we can deliver smaller batches with shorter lead-times to make the non-responsiveness problem disappear.”

“Why do you have inventory near your machinery?”
Ideally, we would be able to respond immediately to demand as it is expressed.
“However, the problem is that the machine occasionally faults, so we cannot respond as needed.
“Therefore, we maintain this inventory as a countermeasure to give the impression of on-demand and immediate service even if the equipment faults.
“However, the presence of the inventory reminds us that we still have to solve problems in order to make the problem (unreliability) disappear.”

Ideally…
However, the problem is…
Therefore, we have this countermeasure…
But…we still have to solve problems.

I came to realize that “the ideal” represents the best possible experience for customers, employers, and employees.

Ideally, all work should be:

Defect free,
On demand,
Delivered immediately,
in units of use (e.g., one by one).
… for the customers’ benefit.

Safe
… for the employees’ benefit.

Without waste (without cost?)
…for the supplier’s benefit.

And secure
…for the benefit of the various stakeholders.
Note 1: “The ideal” has dimensionality far beyond “eliminate waste,” which fails to articulate well customer delight.

Note 2: “The Ideal” is physically impossible (on demand and immediate requiring infinite acceleration, hence infinite power).

Note 3: “The Ideal” is not the same as “the target condition.”

A “target condition” is a problem solver’s prediction of how a system will operate when countermeasures–developed in remediate problem root-causes–are put into place.  The target may be better than the current.  It also is likely not as good as the ideal.

I hope this explanation helps.  Please let me know if clarification is needed.

Steve Spear

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