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Thursday, August 8, 2013

It Takes TAKT



Welcome back to Coach’s Corner.  We have covered Flow and Pull in previous newsletters, and your rave reviews have inspired yet another article.  To complete the Lean trilogy, it is only fitting that this month’s topic is TAKT.

The Heartbeat of Business

TAKT is the heartbeat concept you learned about in Lean 101.  We teach it in Greenbelt, we teach it  again in Blackbelt, and we explain it to executives every chance we get.  The idea that companies can think about customer demand in terms of an average pace for their work schedules is not too hard to accept.  Yet despite the attention we give to teaching TAKT, I have to say I don’t think most people really have a solid grasp of TAKT Time – why it is so important. The implications it has for their business are stunning.  I find that most companies on the Lean journey stop at a superficial understanding of TAKT Time.  Oh sure, they can talk about TAKT.  Maybe even calculate it.  But do they actually use it?  Do they take advantage of it?  Can they figure out how to apply it to their organization?  Regrettably, I find that TAKT thinking stagnates at the concept stage in many companies.
TAKT time makes customer demand more tangible by chopping up customer demand into small time chunks (TAKT interval) for one-piece-flow.  To avoid overproduction and still deliver on-time, we need to produce one product at a time during each TAKT interval.  Do you see the implications?  If TAKT time is 60 seconds, we need to produce one product every 60 seconds or one minute.  This equates to 60 products per hour (assuming no downtime), or approximately 420 items per day (again assuming about 7 hours of actual production time per day).  But we can’t simply say “let’s produce 420 items per day”   because if we are falling behind, we wouldn’t “catch it” until the end of the day and by then it’s too late to make up the difference.  The whole point of TAKT time is to know immediately if production is on schedule or behind so that you can catch the “falling trend” before it’s too late.

Applying TAKT Time

Somehow the application of TAKT Time often ends up being used to establish daily or weekly production targets.  The information tends to get aggregated into larger batches that a typical manufacturing execution system can deal with.  It’s almost a reversion back to a traditional manufacturing setting.  It seems we use TAKT merely to confirm that the production schedules we have set are reasonable, and then we allow ourselves to think we are “doing TAKT”. 
So what have we missed?  Simple answer: the opportunity to improve!  TAKT is not some aggregated planning tool.  In another words, you don’t use TAKT to get a general sense of whether you are behind schedule at the end of the shift or the day. 
TAKT is an improvement tool.  How are you going to spot the kaizen opportunities if you don’t use TAKT real-time?  Every single part you produce is supposed to give you an opportunity to catch the process in the act of misbehaving.  This is how supervisors and associates in strong Lean environments make the process a little bit better every day.  They see the reasons for slippage right away, in the gemba.  In contrast, I see many non-Lean companies have a person locked in an office, never having been to the gemba, trying to mine their ERP/MRP data to find out why they fell short of production targets, again.  The only way to really get good information about missed cycles is to see what is going on in the gemba, where the work actually takes place and track the true reasons for problems real time.  I cannot recall seeing any system-generated reports that identify a new smoking gun.  You have to see the gun in the gemba when you miss TAKT time in order to put it in the report in the first place.  So why is it crucial to use TAKT time all through the day, every day?  Because if you don’t, your kaizen life becomes relegated to special events, and you miss the daily improvements.
When people travel to Japan, they are blown away by the great andon boards showing plan vs. actual production output based on TAKT Time.  But when they return to their home organizations and it is time to actually apply their learnings, they say it cannot be done. Though it may seem reasonable on the surface to say this, because they don’t make cars or computers, rather they build buildings and serve customers that TAKT time cannot be applied, I would argue this is an unchallenging, unimaginative conclusion.  Especially when there are world class project offices that break down project timelines into steps, display daily progress to plan, and conduct hansei and huddles to find improvement and recovery opportunities every day.  I doubt anyone wants to be the family physician that merely accepts the wasted time for their patients and themselves as part of “the system”.   Then there are family physicians that have figured out how to manage the timeslots in a day, anticipate abnormalities, and stay on schedule without rushing to provide expert care to their patients.  What’s the difference?  In the end I think it is the awareness of when we are off-plan, recognizing what is causing that, and caring enough to do something about it.  Thinking Lean, Acting Lean.

TAKT Takes Leadership

This brings us around to the stark truth that exploiting the power of TAKT comes down to leadership.  Managers and Supervisors need to set an environment where people in a work team can see how they are doing, are trained and coached to surface problems, and empower them to fix them, and feel satisfaction from their daily wins.  Good Lean companies get over the fear that measuring things is about beating up on people.  Good Lean companies understand that visibility of TAKT accomplishment is about empowering people and allowing them to problem solve.

Q: So how should a company go about introducing visible time standards and real-time performance tracking in the workplace?

A: TAKTfully.
Stay tuned as the biggest secret for productivity improvement, a secret that even experienced Lean companies miss out on, will be revealed in the next issue of Coach’s Corner…..

-Coach Andrew

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