How Small Manufacturers Can Create a Culture of Accountability with an Alternative to Traditional Andon Systems

Toyota’s well-known success building quality vehicles with great efficiency was partly attributed to implementing an Andon system. Traditional Andon systems consist of a cord or button that triggers a corresponding light on the assembly line to convey a particular message to the line workers. The principle goal behind Andons is to prevent costly defects in the manufacturing process by creating a culture of accountability in the team involved in the production.

With traditional Andon systems, this means that workers shut down the line when a problem arises and solve the problem instead of continuing to push the product to the next phase of production. When issues are addressed immediately, time and money are saved in the future because there are fewer defects that cause costly recalls. While manufacturers in the West have largely been enamored with the success Toyota has experienced, they are known for resisting the idea of halting assembly lines as it is counterintuitive to building more product at a faster pace. Fortunately, there is an alternative to traditional Andon systems that can help build a culture of accountability for American manufacturers. To clarify, we aren’t saying that you should eliminate Andon systems.

Instead, we advocate for using a cloud-based platform with Andons and analytics as well as a continuous improvement system to build trust among your team and in your processes, thereby building a culture of accountability.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, an accomplished statistician, is credited with developing a continuous improvement system known today as Total Quality Management. Highly successful companies that have followed his philosophy have improved significantly, and Deming’s Fourteen Points have become a standard for quality transformation in manufacturing. Let’s discuss the meaning and value of each of these points.

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs. While you may have revenue goals, making profits is not a purpose. It is a result of following through on your purpose. To create constancy, you must be dedicated to continuous improvement of your product or service with the mission to benefit your customers. It needs to be part of your culture. This means your corporate values are not simply words on a poster or rules your employees follow. They must drive the actions of all your employees, including you. Any time you introduce change into the workplace, you will likely experience resistance and skepticism from employees. That’s why it’s important to incorporate all of Deming’s points as a system and live your corporate values.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change. Although this principle was created in the 80s, it still rings true today in manufacturing. Even when production time is not scrutinized, too often, employees are afraid to make mistakes, alert others to mistakes, or stop the line because they are afraid of what the leadership might say or think.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. While this point could be easily mistaken to mean that Deming didn’t believe in inspection, he was emphasizing that companies should not depend on inspections to weed out the bad products, but they should use inspections to improve the manufacturing process. Not all, but many inspections could be eliminated if quality is built into the process.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. Lowering total cost makes total sense. If you use an inferior part in your product because it comes with a lower price tag and lose customers because your product quality decreases, you could lose way more than you saved on the part. Deming also realized the value of developing partners for supplies that are critical to the product you make. Those loyal partners will look out for your interests, make sure you get what you need when you need it. And they will choose to share their best innovations with you first, sometimes exclusively.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease cost. The keywords here are constantly and forever. These words imply that perfection is never achieved and take into account the fact that society and technology are always changing. You will constantly be reducing time and waste by improving, but will also be introducing new products to the mix, resulting in a never ending cycle of improvement.
  6. Institute training on the job. Your workers need to know how to do their job, then they need to know how to improve it. That means aside from teaching them their job functions, you need to teach them how to experiment to improve upon the way they do their job. Deming was a proponent of the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) method of experimentation that is commonly used in Lean manufacturing today.
  7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers. Deming explains the role of leadership rather simply in his book, Out of the Crisis, by saying, “the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort.” It’s incumbent upon leadership to create an atmosphere that allows people to take pride in their work.
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. People often don’t have pride in their work when they are operating out of fear. In their book, Driving Fear out of the Workplace, Kathleen D. Ryan and Daniel K. Oestreich list common workplace fears such as:
    • Having one’s credibility questioned;
    • Being left out of decision making;
    • Being criticized in front of others;
    • Not getting information necessary to succeed;
    • Having a key assignment given to someone else;
    • Having disagreements that might lead to damaged relationships;
    • Getting stuck in a dead end job;
    • Not getting deserved recognition;
    • Not being seen as a team player;
    • Having suggestions ignored or misinterpreted as criticisms;
    • Receiving poor performance ratings;
    • Getting fired.
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service. While smaller manufacturers don’t have so many people that company-wide communication is difficult, they aren’t immune to miscommunication. If production can’t keep up with sales, for example, it affects the whole organization. It’s important that each department understands other departments’ roles in the production process.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce. Well-meaning managers looking for ways to motivate production teams will often try to encourage higher quality and levels of productivity by praising winning lines. The problem is that it punishes people who may be improving the process by finding defects. Pride of workmanship needs to be encouraged, while the quota system needs to be eliminated. Whenever work standards are replaced with leadership, quality and productivity increase substantially, and people are happier on their jobs.
  11. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership. Managers interfere with the process of continuing improvement when they over focus on numerically-based outcomes. Reporting and analytics are crucial, but they are meant to provide actionable insights into continuing improvement. They should not be used to brow beat workers with the numbers.
  12. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective. Rewarding people with raises based on accomplishing number- based objectives interferes and puts the focus on the wrong place. Measuring people using numbers does not promote pride of workmanship, nor does it reward people for continuously improving.
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. Employee retention plagues all sizes of manufacturers. Professional development is attractive and rewarding for employees. According to Carolyn Lee, the Manufacturing Institute’s executive director “In manufacturing, you are constantly learning and growing, and the technological change is enormous. What you are going to be able to continue to do as you layer new skills, on top of those fundamental skills, will make for a very interesting and dynamic career.”
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job. Because executives have more authority, they have greater responsibility to implement a continuous improvement system, but everyone in the organization must be involved.

By focusing on continuous improvement instead of numbers, Andon systems can work the way they are intended—to root out problems that arise in the manufacturing process. Workers are proud of their craftsmanship and support and hold each other accountable.

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