Sh*t Still Happens. Plan For It Before Your Ramp-Up.

by | Jul 23, 2020


Welcome to article #4 in my “Climbing the Reopen Mountain” series on using OpEx methods to help you face pandemic-driven challenges. For more articles on this topic, see my blog list.

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If you read my last newsletter, you know that the foundation of a successful ramp-up is to create standard work around your new operations strategy.

So let’s say you really nail the standard work and your ramp-up is going great. What happens next?

WHAM! Something you didn’t plan for. Something you couldn’t plan for because you couldn’t even see it coming.

Even the best standard work and Operations planning can’t prevent sh*t – or, as we OpEx people call it: “non-standard stuff” – from happening.

Oh sure, you could sit around a (Zoom) conference table and plan until the wee hours, but there’s no way you can foresee every possible twist, turn and problem that could come your way. For every step in your process you’ve got to consider:

  • Raw Materials and Suppliers
  • Utilities and Environment
  • Equipment and Tools
  • People and Training, including Safety
  • Testing and Measurements
  • Methods and Procedures
  • Software and Data

Operations is too complex; the number of individual factors to consider immense.

(BTW, OpEx does have concepts and tools to improve and optimize EVERY ONE of these factors. Here’s a short list of them on our website.)

So, you can – and should – cover a lot of bases ahead of time. But, you must be ready for unexpected changes to known factors and, even more important, unseen changes to unknown factors. It’s the latter that takes you down and out. Believe me, I know from experience!


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Data Are Your Eyes and Ears to Detect the Unexpected

The way to deal with unexpected problems is to recognize the possibility of them in your Operations strategy and ramp-up plans and build systems to detect them.

Well-designed and well-implemented monitoring and measuring systems are absolutely essential to Operations success. These are your eyes and ears and provide early warning that something might be going wrong. And the earlier the better! These systems should extend deep into your supply chain with a combination of in-person audits, (electronic) data collection and visual management.

#1 In-Person Audits (qualitative data)

There’s no substitute for going to see what’s happening for yourself, whether it’s in your own facility or at a supplier’s. You can tell a lot about performance reliability just by closely looking around, whether it’s a gemba walk, a 5S audit or a vendor audit. How clean and orderly are the work spaces? Are people running around or calmly working? What do you hear when you stop and listen…calm and quiet or shouting and squealing machinery?

Talk to people, ask questions, listen attentively to their answers. I recommend asking people about their work and posing what-if questions about problems. How knowledgeable are they about their own work and addressing problems that arise? How confident do people sound in their answers?


#2 Data Collection (quantitative data)

As the saying goes “In God we trust. All others bring data.” Data is THE basis for sound decision making.

What data is being collected, what KPIs are being calculated, what graphs are being created, where are they being published and how often are they being updated?

Can associates at the gemba correctly read and interpret data and graphs? How do they know when things are going wrong?  What is their response plan? How fast do issues get escalated and to whom?

Take advantage of electronic data interchange (EDI) to gather data along your supply chain to detect excursions as early as possible. This allows you to take action quickly.


#3 Visual Management (qualitative data)

This OpEx tenet makes seeing problems quick and easy. Kanbans let you know in seconds whether a system is working correctly by the flow (or non flow) of raw materials, supplies, parts and WIP.

Another alert system is Andon, the Japanese word for light or lantern, whereby when a problem occurs at the gemba, the associate turns on a signal, typically a light, that alerts people, in particular their team leader. A problem is defined as whenever standard work cannot be accomplished  to agreed-upon cycle time or quality levels.

Remember, Hope is Not a Strategy. Be Ready for the Unexpected!

You may not be able to foresee every problem on your road to ramp-up, but you can be ready to detect the inevitable “non-standard stuff,” maybe even before it hits the fan.

Are you losing sleep, wondering how you’re going to deal with unexpected “nonstandard” stuff? I can help. Pick up the phone or email me.




Todd Hudson, Head Maverick