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Here is a past article by executive coach, Andrew on one of the fundamental concepts of lean, pull.
Pull What?As any Greenbelt will tell you, PULL is about producing and supplying only what the customer needs. Pull remains the first and most powerful paradox in the Lean world. How can stopping and re-starting work possibly be more efficient than running flat out and using every drop of time available? Well, now we know that it is true—the minor time wastes of stopping and starting pale in comparison to the major wastes created by overproduction, excess inventory, obsolescence, and long lead times. Companies that truly practice PULL not only reduce inventory, they also create a framework for kaizen. When inefficiencies are not hidden by a sea of inventory, the logical thing to do is to shorten set-up times, reduce change-over times, build more flexibility into operating schedules, better manage staffing levels, cross-train people, and become more nimble as a supplier of goods or services. Operating a pull system means you need to build stability and predictability into your processes and your supply base, because you won’t be hiding behind a sea of inventory any more. In this way, Pull and Kaizen go hand-in-hand. The mechanics of pull are not all that difficult. Right? Well, we coaches see a lot of failed attempts, but there is always a silly deviation behind every failure. Failure is not a chance occurrence. Usually it is because of fruitless attempts to re-invent the wheel. You don’t gamble with the pull system. Unless you are running a job shop with inconsistent material inputs, you can make pull systems work for you. Please take advantage of the lessons learned when setting up your pull system. Use the LSI checksheet! It will guide you, like a ship’s compass to treasure island. Continuous improvement applies to pull systems as well. You need to revisit your pull system and make regular adjustments to ensure it is indeed pulling.
PULL Is the New JITOne of the questions coaches often get asked when we talk about pull systems is what happened to Just In Time (JIT)? Is pull the same as JIT? Well, yes and no. Yes, JIT is about reducing inventory and having just what you need at a workplace. Back in the day, I was all over JIT. I saw the future and wanted to put JIT in place everywhere. I wanted to make change. They called me a JIT disturber. They said I had JIT for brains. They even called me a JIT head. I got over it. Much like the Lean world got over the word “JIT”, and replaced it with Pull or Replenishment. You see the problem with JIT as a Lean term is that it implies something arrives just in the knick of time. It confuses people because they might think there is nothing there; no inventory at all. Then, suddenly when it is time to start work, materials magically appear. We know that isn’t so. And good luck with trying this folly through Enterprise Resource Planning. So the real winners understand that Pull is best accomplished by replenishment. Never forget the ‘supermarket’ analogy. There is some product on the shelf, consumers take it and the stock level drops. Before the day is out, the stock gets replenished. So great pull is not really JIT. We now talk about Pull and Replenishment and Supermarkets and Kanban.
Kanban and Triggering PullsWhich brings us to the final element of Pull systems—Kanban. OK, let’s get this straight. You pronounce it “Kahn Bahn”. Not “Can-Ban” (eeew, shudder). Now that we have that out of the way, let’s keep it simple. Kanban is simply a signal to replenish. Yes, we can add complicating factors like production kanban (signal to make stuff) and movement kanban (signal to move stuff) and internal kanban (signals that are only communicated within your company) and external kanban (signals that go to your suppliers or come from your customers). But the premise is all the same. We need a good clear signal: 1. What item is needed 2. What quantity it is needed in 3. Where to deliver it. That’s kanban. Keep it simple folks. Start with a simple 2-bin system where the value of parts are not in the top 20% of your spending, and get the flow going. Slowly expand to higher value items where more kanbans and smaller quantities can reduce overall inventory levels. Actively manage the number of kanbans for seasonal levels and major customer demand level changes. And where you can, attach the cards to the bins that hold the parts. Use “Bin-Ban” wherever you can. For suppliers, use “e-ban”, where you email the kanban signal to the supplier (unless you are using re-usable bins that go back and forth to the supplier). Get the mechanics of kanban working well, and you too will Pull ahead with your Lean program. So now we would like to Pull in some feedback and insights from you, our attentive audience. Go on and send in your thoughts and comments on Pull.