Smooth flow is extremely important in order to have an efficient process. A process that not only delivers the desired product, but does so with the best in safety, quality, productivity, and cost.
If you are an alpine skier, smooth flow is similar to that ultimate run you continuously chase after where you are effortlessly gliding down the mountainside like an eagle floating on air currents. Or if you are not a skier, smooth flow is incredibly awesome because everything operates extremely effectively and is a dream to manage. Like skiing, this doesn’t mean that hard work and continued effort is not required, as smooth flow doesn’t just happen!
From my experience, there are four critical components to having smooth flow. They are:
- Visual Controls
Standards: First, there needs to be critical, basic, and expectation standards developed and implemented to establish the normal conditions and specifications to which the process should be operated and maintained. Standards can be specifications, andons, FIFO, buffers, home positions, process checks, confirmations or audits, or other clearly defined parameters that establish the normal or desired operating conditions.
Visual Controls: Once the standards are determined, creating controls that visually indicate when the process is within the normal or expected operating standard is the next step. More importantly, effective visual controls are an andon to signal an abnormality that requires a deeper dive and corrective action.
5S/AO: One could argue that 5S, or as sometimes referred to as Area Organization (AO), should be step 2, however, once the visual controls are established, 5S/AO becomes how the standards and visual controls are sustained. An effective 5S/AO management system will assist leaders in keeping a good condition to maintain control but also quickly indicate abnormalities.
LSW/SW: Leader Standardized Work (LSW) and process Standard Work are the fourth important components of smooth flow. LSW contains the key checks, confirmations, or actions a leader needs to do on a regular basis in order to maintain the standards defined for the process. The process Standard Work is what is used to train operators how to perform their assigned tasks and defines the step sequence and key points to ensure the highest levels of safety, quality, productivity and cost. When followed continuously, LSW/SW maintain the standards of the process.
The image above provides a mental model of the key components in order to have smooth flow. The circular orientation of the 4 critical components of smooth flow indicate not only how the one leads to the next, but the circular orientation symbolizes two things. First, in order for flow to be continuous and smooth, all 4 critical components need to exist and be sustained. Second, like a circle or tire, if any of the components are not maintained, you will have a flat tire, and smooth flow will be impacted to some degree or another. The flow will not be smooth and like a flat tire, the process will be bumpy and cause you issues.
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Leader Standardized Work is for, well, EVERYONE!