Monday, July 11, 2005

Everyday Lean—“Just-in-time” information

2 cycle gas can, originally uploaded by joeelylean.

Everyday Lean—“Just-in-time” information

The two pillars of Lean are “just in time” and self-detecting error checking. Everything else extends from these two principles. They are both simple and profound and I find myself learning more about it all the time.

“Just in time” means that I get what I need when I need it and not a lot before. This is well understood in terms of materials; pull systems deliver the goods close to the user, close to when they are needed.

We understand this less well, though, when it comes to information flow. How often to we distribute a memo with the thought “They’ll need it sometime.” And it only adds clutter, both to the mind and to the workplace.

Better to communicate the information at the place and time the user needs it. Which brings us to this example of Everyday Lean.

The photo above is of a humble gasoline container for my gas-powered string trimmer. This lawn-care device uses a 2-cycle engine; therefore I have to give it a gas/oil mixture. And, as anyone who has messed with this knows, the mixture is crucial to the operation and life of such small engines. And how easy it is to forget just what the mix ratio is for a certain engine.

In order to not forget, I simply wrote the name of the trimmer and the exact mixture on the side of the container. Why there? Because I only need to know the mix ratio when I am out of gas. And when I am out of gas, I have to use the gas container. And I am very unlikely to lose the container, even though I probably can’t locate today the instruction manual that came with the trimmer only a year ago.

Come on, Joe, you say. This is so simple. Why draw attention to it? Indeed…marking on the side of a container is simple. Yet it illustrates a key principle. And productivity gains in many activities are far more dependent on improving information flow than on improving material flow.

I hope you find this helpful.

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