Brutal friends, deceptively simple tweets & a controversial definition of kaizen (#36)

I hesitate to say this but I'm blessed with a number of brutal friends. Not a physical-never-tire-of-hitting-you-in-the-face brutal but a biting humour that cuts through frivolous social nicety and delivers a clear message. A message that mostly amounts to "What are you talking about?" or more to the point "why have you been sending pointless tweets out into the ether again?" One of these friends, in a wittier moment, once summed kaizen up as "Why take two steps forward when you can take one"

Today then, I'm going to explain one of my seemingly pointless tweets for (i) anyone who cares to know and (ii) my simpleton friends. The risk, of course, is that the moment you start to dissect and explain a joke is the moment it cease to be funny. I don't think the same rule holds true for tweets but here goes.

The tweet in question is posted below:

These are the traffic lights at the bottom of the long raking downhill drive into the market town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire (where I currently live). On this day, I was walking back up the hill and noted something of interest. If you look closely at the middle left of the picture, a car is parked up on the kerb. Squint a little harder and you'll note that the sign on the back of the car says "Traffic Signal Maintenance".

This I noted because it represents a potential change point and those who run lean 'in control' operations love change point management (even though they may not use that exact terminology). The key lies in recognising that many defects and accidents happen after something changes. As I knew I would be driving down the hill later, several thoughts occurred to me;

1) This is a potential abnormality as there's no guarantee that the lights will behave exactly as before

2) Is it routine maintenance OR a change to the sequence OR a change to the timing?

3) Either way, the lights might operate differently OR the confirmation that they work as intended after the maintenance may be flawed.

When I approached the lights later that day it was with a heightened sense of awareness for my own driving with an eye on the potential confusion of others. This is the strong operational practice of spotting & reacting to abnormalities (traffic signal car parked) rather than sorting the subsequent problem (accident).

A factory example? take your pick... new operator on line, new supplier for an existing part, change to the way a machine operates, kaizen changing the work sequence on an upstream process etc. If we brief these out to our people on the shop floor in advance, they are forewarned and we can manage around the change point.

The great thing about living the 'change point' life is that it holds your feet to the fire to define normal (Standardisation) so that abnormal becomes very obvious. It also draws supporting functions like engineering and materials into closer communication with Team Leaders on the gemba. What's not to like about that?

That's about all I have to say about that tweet.


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