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When to Pull the Andon

by Kelly Moore
August 1, 2017

When to Pull the Andon

by Kelly Moore
August 1, 2017 | Comments (3)

The day was a traveler’s nightmare. Due to terrible weather, we were forced, mid-air, to divert from our hub destination and temporarily land in another city. Ultimately my long delays forced my travel to be completely re-routed and I was stranded overnight in an airport. Thankfully I found a hotel.

When I checked back into the airport the next day, I was prompted to declare how many bags of luggage I was checking in. I wondered why the airline didn’t remember since they still had the one bag I had relinquished to them at check-in the day before. A discussion with the desk attendant revealed my bag was not re-routed with me, but was left behind. 

Knowing there was only one flight that day that would allow my bag to reach my final destination, I asked if my bag could be moved to that flight. The desk attendant told me she couldn’t do anything now and I would need to file a missing bag claim when I arrived at my final destination – six hours from now. I argued if I filed the claim now, my bag would not miss the only flight. Sadly, no andon was pulled and it took one and a half days before my bag and I were reunited.

Stopping the process to prevent a defect from moving out of your area is a basic tenet of lean. Many of us, even if we haven’t witnessed it with our own eyes, can picture a manufacturing operator pulling a cord, like the stop-cord on a bus or a train. Picturing a cord in a service or office environment is much harder to envision. What does that tenet look like in real life? If you are a service organization, would your customers agree you pulled the cord?

I remember a time at work when a third-party contract worker began her end-of-shift materials count. The delivery truck, bound for a customer, had left with the last pallet not too long before. A routine count of labels revealed too many labels were left over! But why – was product shipped that wasn’t labeled? Was there a miscount in the number of pallets shipped? Either option was a critical error in the packaging world. The worker courageously pulled the andon and the truck was turned around en-route. All material on the truck was correct – it turned out the label maker oversupplied labels. Although our customer never knew it, the worker protected the good name of our company. The good name of our company is always in the hands of the worker.

This all makes me wonder – why was that airline employee, or any employee in any organization, not allowed to pull the andon cord? Was it a process oversight, or an intentional process design that took away the ability to stop a known defect when face-to-face with a customer? Did management understand how difficult a position it was for the employee standing in front of me, telling me her process didn’t allow her to file a claim now? Talking with the desk attendant made me realize that I have never assessed how easy it was for anyone to pull the andon in my own processes. Have I inadvertently made it impossible, either by process design or worse? Perhaps a KPI?

What would your customers or employees say about reaching for the andon cord in your business? 

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
Joe August 01, 2017
3 People AGREE with this comment

One form of prevention is minimizing inventory and not checking a suitcase to begin with... the lean traveler doesn't check a bag :-)

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Kelly Moore August 01, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

;) yes! As much as possible 

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Fabio Gambaro August 07, 2017

As long as you can... sometimes you leave for a 2-week trip and it's not possible (at least for me) to go with hand luggage only... and some airlines are doing their best to make it difficult to travel with hand luggage only...

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