Lean culture requires a solid Jidoka approach. This is one of the three pillars and unfortunately is the one which is not so close to the common thinking as the other two pillars, which are actually represented by correct material handling and syncronisation (1) and people’s soft skill development (2).
The result is that most of the lean culture building programs may be extremely weak on the Jidoka side and may lose a good part of their effectiveness. It may depend on the fact that there are translations of the lean temple which replaces Jidoka with Quality, and this is probably not helping in understanding its meaning. Jidoka helps to improve Quality, of course, but if we just consider it as a way to stop wrong pieces to be delivered we are losing a big part of its meaning.
Is that pillar so difficult to implement or it is just matter of understanding better the meaning so we can make it stronger, so even stronger will be the entire Lean culture transformation?
Let’s try to make it simple for two reasons. The first is that the simpler we make the topics the easier will be to grasp the best out of them, in general. The second reason why we make it simpler is because that pillar is about making things simpler.
Jidoka may be translated into autonomation, “an automation with a human touch”.
Well, behind this simple statement, the meaning is still very simple. Don’t fall into the mistake of thinking too much about the first part of the translation, the “automation” piece, which is somewhere complex to be thought and implemented. Think about the second part of the translation, the “human touch” which is the key to understand the meaning of that concept.
Moreover, think about the Jidoka concept as “Make and keep things simple”, KIS or KISS to use a common acronym .
So what is Jidoka about?
Jidoka is about “good at first attempt” and about simplification. How can we imagine a Lean culture without simplifying things? If one of the pillar is synchronisation and the other is development of individual’s skills, where is the magic simplification which is where the entire Lean culture bases its effectiveness?
It’s there, in the Jidoka pillar.
How this translates into our day by day activities is simple as well: we have to focus ourselves and our process improvements only on the stable and well known part of the processes, taking advantage of the Pareto 80/20 rule, by designing and implementing easy and simple smooth processes aimed to cover the 80 percent of the scenarios with only 20% of the complexity and the effort, and by making them automatic (which doesn’t necessary mean implementing robots or new machines, it means that the process will run smoothly as the parties involved can move it forward with a minimum or no effort).
With that simplification and automation in place, everything that fall outside the processes (the missing 20 percent of scenarios) are good opportunities to involve our human touch in gaining additional control and guiding these deviations through the existing processes. We can obtain this by adjusting the conditions through an extensive problem solving approach, so the next time they will fall into the automatic part of the process without any additional human touch.
By looping into this virtuous human involvement we will make our processes more and more robust and we will be also able to immediately adapt to additional variations that may happen.
That’s why Jidoka is commonly identified with automatic processes which stop themselves as soon as something goes wrong, waiting for the humans to intervene and to decide how to keep things going, on one side, and challenging the process to include also the variations into the process for the future, on the other side.
Should this need another point of view to be well absorbed, let’s think about one of the reasons why automation may fail. Without simplifying the processes the challenge to fully automate a complex process are so many and somewhere difficult to be addressed, so the automation becomes a huge challenge, a huge cost, with a huge payback period and huge problems to be addressed afterwards. Goodbye Flexibility at that point.
“Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” Peete Seeger has been attributed of this quote, and similar quotes already exists.
Think about Jidoka as the Lean approach to say the same and to leverage the genius in ourselves to drive our Lean culture where others are not able to get because of their mental complexity.