Don’t Stop the Presses – and Other Critical Mistakes!

Great companies unlock incredible value by resisting the natural human instinct to never stop production. Somehow, it is in our DNA to feel better when a process is making product – no matter what. “Don’t stop the process! I don’t care what you have to do!” is the marching order to abandon the benefits of the flow! It is often attributed to a constraint. “An hour lost on the constraint can never be caught back up”.

The theory of constraints teaches us to exploit the constraint, subordinate to the constraint, and elevate the constraint. Flow takes the strategy further by recognizing everything is connected and overproducing, even at the constraint, is counter-productive!

Overproduction, even at the Constraint, is Counter-Productive

Organizations that recognize the value of flowing product quickly, look for connections between the processes that can be improved to increase overall flow. A press that extrudes metal only to be placed in racks to be delivered to a stretcher to be stretched and then placed in racks to send to a saw to cut and again placed in racks to be delivered to packing, is quickly improved with a run out table to a stretcher connected to a saw and a pack team at the end of the physical line, to pack the material. The result is a product that flows right from the press to shipping in packed bundles.

The interesting difference that comes from the connected processes is the idea of stopping the press. The battle cry is still the same, “don’t stop the presses!” but the difference is – if the saw breaks down or the run-out table fills up, the press stops and everyone works to fix the flow problem to get the press running again.

In the old environment, where the processes were separate work centers, the press would keep pumping out metal as directed and the inventory builds up!!

Inventory is the enemy of flow

Over production is the costliest of the seven wastes because it creates inventory. Inventory is, by definition, material that is sitting and not flowing. If value is not being added, it is sitting. This requires capital, space, management decisions on how to organize, what order to run, searching, risk material damage, becoming obsolete, or lost.

When the press is connected to the stretcher, saw, and packing and there is a problem with flow – the press stops. There is nowhere to put the material. Great organizations create rules for all of their processes that conceptually connect those processes in the same way. It may be as simple as a red square on the floor that when fills up – you stop!

Unbalanced Metrics Drive Bad Decisions

Organizations that embrace the “don’t-stop-the-presses” practice often measure productivity as king. Pounds per Machine Hour or Pieces per Labor Hour are dangerous if not offset by flow day metrics. Value needs to be added productively and the product or service needs to flow sequentially without stopping.

Encourage your organization to find their constraint, exploit it, subordinate to it, and elevate it but when flow stops for the whole process – stop it.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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