Reminiscing and misusing tools/not measuring things properly.
The other day I was pondering the andon on a semi-automated test rig at work. I was also thinking about a comment made by the speaker at a lean manufacturing seminar I recently attended. He gave a hypothetical example about improperly measuring a process making trouble: If a call centre’s performance was measured solely on the average time a phone rings before it’s answered by a worker, what would happen? One possible outcome is that customers would get prompt answers and be put on hold. The workers would be fulfilling their mandate while still giving bad service.
It made me think about my introduction to andon systems. I believe they’re potentially worth their weight in gold but not true for the first one I used. Managers that the system was made to assist scuttled any chances of it doing any good because of the way their own performance was gauged.
The andon system was part of an order picking line that had a large conveyor with cones placed on it to separate orders; the pickers would fill their part of the order and place it between the appropriate cones. If an order picker had trouble they could press a button at their station that stopped the conveyor, lit an indicator light to summon help, and start a timer to record stoppage time.
The problem was that the floor supervisors’ pay was performance based…sort of. Their base pay was low and ~60% of their income came from bonuses based on meeting production goals (# of items picked on their shift). Where the bonus system went wrong was that it simply counted how many items were picked and didn’t take errors into account. When a picker had a problem they’d hit their button, the line would stop, and the light would summon a supervisor and additional help. …Then the supervisor would get the line restarted without concern for errors if he didn’t think the crew had time to get the 100,000 unit goal he depended on. If we had time to fix errors then it was usually OK with him but usually tripping your stop switch resulted in being bullied by the supervisor until you restarted the system. What really concerned us was that the mid level managers didn’t have a problem with this approach! It created a toxic work environment. Did I mention they’ve gone out of business?
A funny additional detail: The original andon system was poorly designed and the indicator lights were powered in parallel without over current protection or thought given to what would happen if a lot of sections came on at once. There wasn’t a problem because there was never more than a few concurrent problems until the day where the order pickers refused to work anymore and they all hit their buttons at once. The current from all the lamps burned up the wiring in the system enclosure!