Is velocity unsafe?

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CLIENT: You are asking us to rush.  It’s unsafe.

ME: No, not at all.  I want the product to move faster on its journey to the customer.

CLIENT: You ask for more urgency.

ME: Yes

CLIENT: This could be dangerous. It could lead to more accidents. You want us to do more set-ups and lower our batch sizes.  You want the change-over done in 9 minutes.  This is putting unnecessary pressure on the team members.

ME: I don’t want the team to rush.  I want them to be safe. But we need velocity of product.  The change-over can be done in less time if we apply some techniques at no risk to the operators.

CLIENT: Then we must rush.

I’ve had this circular argument  a few times.  A couple of occasions in Toyota on a tour where the uninitiated see the pace of the line. ‘How can they keep that up all day?  We can’t ask our people to do that?’  And I’m not.  I don’t want to debate the pace of the line with the client at this point.  Its a battle for another day.  I’m all for slowing the cycle down to do the job safely and to the best quality.  No point putting people at risk or shipping rejects to the customer.  Our fixation with utilisation or productivity is not necessarily a good thing.  Sweat the bottleneck by all means but in most cases we can afford to slow down (within reason) to deliver a better Right First Time and margin.

It’s simply a perception thing.  When we look at a production line we focus on the easiest thing to work on: the operator’s cycle time.  We look for the waiting or the extra motion and lose sight of velocity of the product.  A colleague of mine talks passionately about stopping leaders from trying to squeeze the Value Add and he is dead right. There is a mountain of waste tied up in WIP and inventory to keep us all busy and any reductions in WIP will provide far better results in velocity than speeding up an operator’s cycle time. Its about the right focus.  If we, as leaders, spent more time focussing on the Value Stream and barriers to velocity our productivity improvement would become an outcome of the change in focus. So no, I’m all for more velocity. just invest our leadership efforts in the right place and if that means investing in change-over times to minimise batch sizes safely, then that’s where it should be.

Is velocity unsafe?  Not at all.

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