Initial Startup and Common Pitfalls


Well, here we are. We have formed a team, sized the kanban, developed a design, and developed training. So what's left? Are we ready to start up our kanban? (Well, almost!) Before we go live, we need to take care of several items to ensure a successful implementation. We need to:

  • Confirm the design is implemented
  • Confirm training is complete
  • Check the inventories

Once you have taken care of these items, you are ready to get on with the startup of the kanban. Therefore, our kanban process flow extends to include the startup and implementation step, as shown in Figure 7-1.

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Figure 7-1: Modified Kanban Process Flow.

After you have started the kanban, then you need to watch for common pitfalls that disrupt the operation of the kanban. Consider these pitfalls as growing pains of your adolescent scheduling process. Therefore, as you identify problems, correct the problem and remember your role as a coach and mentor.

Confirm That the Design Is Implemented

Before you start the kanban, make sure that you have implemented the kanban design. To make sure you're ready, verify the following items:

  • Are the kanban signals completed?
  • Are the rules posted?
  • Is the visual management information posted?

Don't make a half-hearted attempt at implementation. Make sure these items are complete. Make sure that everything is posted and looks as originally intended.

Having the design implemented simplifies the process of changing from the current scheduling system to the new kanban system. It also makes the training portion considerably easier since the operators and supervisors can readily connect the implemented kanban with the design presented during training.

If you implement the kanban without all the pieces in place, then make sure that everyone knows about the future additions and changes. Also, make sure you have a work-around plan to handle deficiencies and have a firm date for completing the implementation. Finally, you must gain buy-in and support to manage the work-around from the associates . (In many cases, the simple act of open and honest communication coupled with delivery on the promised date will build the teamwork that makes the kanban successful.)

Confirm That Training Is Completed

Training is another key to implementing the design. Although the training content was covered extensively in the last chapter, it bears repeating that without training the associates will never take ownership of the kanban. Make sure you schedule and conduct the training. Also, make sure this training takes place on all affected shifts with all the participants production operators, production supervisors, material handlers, etc. Finally, set up a dry run of the kanban to identify any shortcomings of the design and to make sure everyone understands the process.

Check the Inventories

Checking the inventories is the very last step before going live on kanban scheduling. In this step, determine whether your inventory level will support the transition to kanban scheduling. This assessment will determine whether you have enough inventory to let the system run on its own when you start the kanban.

If you have sufficient inventory, then you are ready to start. Stick to your original schedule and implement the kanban scheduling system. Make sure that everyone knows what the cutover date is and then do it. Congratulations!

If you do not have sufficient inventory, then develop an inventory plan that will get you to the required level. If you must slip the implementation date, then pick a realistic new start date and get started building the necessary inventory.

To develop the inventory assessment, conduct a physical count of all the proposed kanban part numbers . Next compare the inventory to the kanban quantities to determine whether you're at red, yellow, or green levels for the various production parts . Finally, determine whether the kanban as designed would operate properly at the current inventory levels. (Properly means in normal operational mode without scheduling intervention.) Once you have made this determination, then act accordingly ”start the kanban or develop an inventory plan. Figure 7-2 shows an example of an inventory assessment for our ten-part number kanban.

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Figure 7-2: Startup Inventory Assessment.

As an alternate strategy, if you do not have sufficient inventory, then you can opt to manage the initial kanban production. If you select this option, then make it short term. While this option is not desirable in the long term , it lets you get started with kanban.

When you manage the initial kanban production, you essentially set the sequence and the schedule of the production process using the kanban signals themselves . You basically create your own visual production schedule.

Although this is not an ideal strategy, in the short term it allows you to get the operators, material handlers, and any other participants using the kanban design. We only recommend this strategy when your kanban has goals other than just inventory reduction, goals that can't be achieved until you start the kanban. Examples of such goals might include creating flow between workcells or creating a product rotation system.

If you decide to manage the initial production, then make sure you have a plan for going into autonomous operations. Set a date and time that you communicate to everyone. When that date and time arrives, then let the kanban go ”don't let the operators hang onto the crutch and don't let the schedulers nurse them along!!

There is one last little inventory item to check before going live: the arrival of the raw materials . Make sure that their arrivals do not impact the start of the kanban. As with the production inventory, make the appropriate decisions once you have the data.

Nothing Is Ever Perfect So Don t WaitJust Do It!

One last thought to consider as you perform your last-minute checks and a dry run: Look at the readiness of the participants . If they are ready to start the kanban and no significant issues exist, then start the kanban. Nothing is ever perfect. Sometimes we can rationalize ourselves into inaction for an eternity by looking at all the little flaws. You should also remember your role as a coach and mentor. Do not let your own fears keep yourself and the team from implementation.

Startup Issues

As hard as it is to believe (because of the perfect design, excellent planning, and perfect training), you may run into startup issues. These issues usually arise from miscommunications, lack of clarity about roles and responsibility, or not understanding the training. As we said at the beginning of the chapter, take these startup issues in stride and make the necessary corrections. Do not let startup problems cause you to dismiss the benefits of kanban or lose faith in your ability to implement kanban. Once again, identify the problems and make corrections.

To help in getting through these pitfalls, we have listed four of the more common startup problems:

  1. Production operators and supervisors weren't sure the kanban started
  2. Production operators didn't follow the signals
  3. No one knew what to run because the kanban had no yellow signals or too many red signals
  4. Production operators cheated with the signals

To help you deal with these four problems, we have provided their causes and recommended solutions to counter them.

Production Operators and Supervisors Weren t Sure the Kanban Had Started

On the shift that starts the kanban, you may find that some or all the operators and supervisors didn't know that the kanban had started. This can occur because they didn't want to know (i.e., they are slow rolling you). Or they truly didn't know because there was a miscommunication . Regardless of what drives this situation, you can avoid it by clearly communicating the startup and any special conditions surrounding the startup. Communication means the posting of memos and having someone personally speak with the startup crew. Remember, you cannot over-communicate and over-coordinate.

Production Operators Didn t Follow the Signals

Why don't production operators follow the kanban signals? This may result from one of two reasons:

  • They do not understand the signals
  • They have ignored the signals

To determine which is the cause, you will have to conduct your own investigation. Go about your investigation carefully , since your own behavior can be responsible for "the cause" moving from the first reason to the second (which is real bad).

If you determine that the production operators don't understand the signals, then you need to determine whether the design is unclear or whether the training failed. If the rules are unclear, then make the necessary changes to clarify the uncertainties and conduct retraining .

If you determine that the training failed, then determine how the failure occurred. Once you have the failure identified, make the necessary corrections to the training material and conduct retraining.

Also, be aware that this situation can occur with your material handlers. Just like the production operators, determine the cause and make the necessary corrections.

What do you do when the operators don't follow the signals? This is a special case, which goes beyond simple design flaws. When this situation occurs get the production managers and supervisors involved to resolve the issue. They will need to resolve the problem for you.

If you are the person who must resolve the problem, you will need to differentiate between operators not wanting to operate the kanban and operators using the kanban as an opportunity to support a different agenda. Once you have made this determination, then the path to correction will become clear. As with all situations of this nature, use your own judgment and proceed carefully.

No One Knew What to Run Because the Kanban Had No Yellow Signals or Too Many Red Signals

How do you handle the situation where no one knew what to run because there were no yellow signals or there were too many red signals? When this situation occurs, it results from the failure of the kanban's design. You can avoid this problem at startup by making sure the kanban is set up appropriately with adequate inventory levels that allow the process to proceed in an orderly process. If one of these situations occurs after startup, then it signals one of the following conditions:

  • There are too many containers in the kanban (no yellow signals)
  • There are not enough containers in the kanban (too many red signals)

Additionally, it identifies a weakness in the decision rules because either the operators were unable to make a decision with the data available, or no one understood when to call for help.

When you identify which deficiency occurred, make the necessary corrections and conduct retraining.

Production Operators Cheated with the Signals

What do you do when you discover the production operators are cheating with signals? First, be glad they understand the design well enough to cheat, then fix the loophole. To discover the cheating will most likely require auditing of the kanban is discussed in Chapter 8.

Using the Workbook

The CD-ROM Workbook will assist you in preparing for startup by helping you document your readiness. The inventory analysis worksheet will help you assess your inventory position by helping to determine your current inventory status.


Don't make a half-hearted attempt at starting your kanban. Look at these three items to make sure you have all your bases covered before starting:

  1. Confirm the design is implemented
  2. Confirm training is complete
  3. Check the inventories

Once you are satisfied with the findings of the above items, then it is time to start the kanban. If you are not satisfied with your findings, then develop a plan to make the necessary corrections to get ready for startup.

Also, as you perform your last-minute checks and dry run, look at the readiness of the participants . If they are ready to start the kanban and no significant issues exist, then start the kanban.

Remember, nothing is ever perfect. Sometimes we can rationalize ourselves into inaction for an eternity by looking at all the little flaws. You should remember your role as a coach and mentor: Do not let your own fears keep you and the team from implementing the kanban.

Once you have made the decision to start the kanban, then watch for startup issues. Some of the common startup issues include situations where production operators:

  • Weren't sure the kanban started
  • Didn't follow the signals
  • Didn't know what to run because the kanban had no yellow signals or too many red signals
  • Cheated with the signals

Use the information in this chapter to help address these startup potential pitfalls. As you resolve these startup issues, always remember your role as coach and mentor. Also, use the CD-ROM Workbook to help in performing the inventory analysis.

Kanban Made Simple. Demystifying and Applying Toyota's Legendary Manufacturing Process
Kanban Made Simple: Demystifying and Applying Toyotas Legendary Manufacturing Process
ISBN: 0814407633
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 142 © 2008-2020.
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