Saturday, November 13, 2004




"Jidoka" is an odd term, one which many Lean practioners don't understand well, making it difficult to practice.  Yet, along with "Just in Time," it is one of the twin pillars of Lean, both resting on a foundation of Standardized Work.


Jidoka is often translated as "autonomation" or "automation with a human touch", yet that still doesn't help much. 


Jidoka, in action, is best known as the famous line-stop cords in Toyota factories, whereby any associate can pull the cord and stop the entire line when she sees a quality problem or a non-conformance.


I began to understand Jidoka better a couple years ago when I read a paper by Mark Rosenthal (now at Kodak) who summarized the four key points of Jidoka as:

1.       Detect an error

2.       Stop.

3.       Install a countermeasure.

4.       Find the root cause of the error.


From that, I've come to describe this pillar of lean as "the rapid detection and correction of errors.".   Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, I know, but it seems to communicate.


Why do I bring this up?


Because its application goes way beyond just the manufacturing floor.  And I saw it, in spades, yesterday. 


Around 5:45pm yesterday, Friday, a former colleague, Ed, phoned me and we talked about a construction project he was trying to sell and was giving Ed fits. As we talked and rolled around in facts of the situation, it hit me that Jidoka applied.


You see, Ed's project was doomed in that it had a very weak set of construction drawings to utilize as a basis for planning and pricing.  The only way to get it right for his (potential) customer was to:


1.       Detect the error.  Ed recognized, based on his experience that the drawings were just not robust enough to allow either him, as the contractor, or his customer to move ahead with confidence. He knew there was a problem

2.       Stop.  This is the hard part.  Ed realized he had to have the conversation with the customer to stop the current bidding process.  Yes, stop.  Cease.  No further action.  Don't build on a weak foundation.  Shut it down.  "Pull the cord."  It takes guts and strong leadership.  Did I say it was hard?  Yeah, it is tough. 

3.       Install a countermeasure.  We threw ideas around and realized Ed needed to find a way to develop an accurate set of prints.  After some brainstorming, we realized there were some very do-able ways to do this.

4.       Find the root cause of the error.  More complex, but necessary.  On further reflection, Ed realized this customer had a pattern of "ready, fire, aim" when it came to developing construction drawings.  He may have an opportunity, in future, to offer these services earlier to the customer.  He may also be able to apply this with other customers.


My point is that this pillar of Lean applies far beyond the manufacturing floor.  I hope you can find a way to do these four steps of Jidoka today. 


I hope this is helpful. 

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