Saturday, December 14, 2002

What does "STOP!" look like?

I remain captured by the clarity of Mark Rosenthal's article on the two pillars of Lean(click here to read the article): Just-in-time and Detecting Abnormalities. The key step on the latter is the will to say "Stop" or "Enough" or "Whoa" or "No Way" when we detect an abnormality. Here's four examples from my world in the past two days.

The Good

  • A friend phoned me at home on Thursday night. He's on the building committee of a local church which, after two years of work, just got their first set of bids back on a proposed new 60,000 sf facility. They were flabergasted at the prices and said "Stop!" They were going back to the drawing board. He wanted some ballpark square-foot costs from us to compare to what they saw in the bids.

    He talked to some our our folks on Friday and told me on Friday night that was a huge help to see where they were. They will make a change in course. We might or might not get a chance to be a part of it. But, by saying "Stop!", his committee avoided compounding earlier poor decisons by more costly subsequent poor decisions.

  • At 7:02am Friday morning, my pal Ernie, who manages our yard, came in and said "Joe, don't bother taking off your coat, come take a look at this." Our guys noted an apparent problem with some materials we were getting ready to load to ship to a job. They said "Stop!" and got me and the project manager who was responsible for this job to look at it. We concurred. The material did not load, and we'll not have to explain to a customer why it doesn't seem to be what he thought he bought.

The Bad

A week ago we did our semi-annual physical inventory. In analyzing the results, we observed a consistent pattern: many errors resulted from rushed pick-ups of materials, done with handwritten documentation which bypassed our standard process of computer-generated pull sheets. As a result, we got inconsistent (at best) entry of material issues into the computer. Why? We're just too nice to say "STOP!" when issuing material without a proper pull sheet.

The Ugly

Ten years ago, we built a dairy facility on which the customer wanted a shingled roof. On the day we pulled up to install the shingles, we noted that we had not received the 30-year shingle the customer wanted, but instead had 240 squares of a 20-year shingle. Sitting there, on the site, ready to go on. Did we say "STOP!", correct the error and get the requested shingle? No. We made a deal with the customer and put on the lower-grade shingle.

Fast forward to this past summer, 2002. The singles we put on were degrading already...losing their granulation and changing color. After many discussions, my colleage Greg agreed on Friday to a repair with this customer that will cost him and us a bunch of money. Had we said "STOP!" in 1992, we would have avoided huge amounts of wasted expense and time.

Think about it. Stop an abnormality in its tracks in the next hour. Please.

Feel free to forward to a friend.

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