Using a Virtual Andon Board in the Back Office

While lean principles can be applied to non-manufacturing situations, not every lean tool used in manufacturing has value outside the shop floor.

For example, SMED (single minute exchange of die) is a great tool for reducing machine changeover time, but you may not be able to apply it to streamlining office processes.

You might think that an andon board – a device that calls attention to equipment abnormalities and other problems through a series of different colored lights – is also a manufacturing-only tool. You would be wrong.

OK, I was the one who was wrong for thinking that way.

I discovered the error of my thoughts during a presentation at the recent San Diego regional conference of the
Association for Manufacturing Excellence. My epiphany occurred during a detailed, well thought-out presentation on lean in the back office. It was delivered by Janice Frampton, a senior lean consultant with Jean Cunningham Consulting. (Jean Cunningham is co-author of a Shingo Prize-winning book we publish, Easier, Simpler, Faster: Systems Strategy for Lean IT.)

At one point in her talk, Frampton was discussing application of lean principles to the process of closing a company’s books for a given time period (i.e., a year, a quarter). She described what was, in effect, a virtual andon board.

In this case, the andon board was a spreadsheet that listed all the steps in the closing process. In one column of the spreadsheet, the cell in that column lined up with a particular step appeared as either red, yellow or green, depending on the status of that step.

As with a physical andon board, the color-coding made it easy to spot problems immediately and take action to address them.

I thought this was an innovative approach, both to using technology and to applying lean tools to non-traditional situations.

By the way, is it technically an andon board if it is virtual, with no actual board or lights? Who cares?


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