Why FIFOs fail in Aerospace...Part 1


I was teaching a Lean Fundamentals class recently and I was on the topic of FIFO lanes. An employee raised her hand and said “We’ve had a lot of FIFO lanes here in the past but they never work. The signs are still up all over the place but they aren’t real FIFOs. Do you know why this happens?” Wow, I thought, what a great question.

After some reflection, I came up with a few key reasons why FIFO Lanes and systems commonly fail in Aerospace environments. I thought it would be good to write a quick post and share these with you.

1.       Lack of flexibility

2.       Single FIFO used when Multiple FIFO made more sense

3.       Not sized properly

4.       Lack of adherence to the standard work
5.    Physical Space

I’ll explain #1 in a bit more detail then elaborate on the others in a later post. In Aerospace environments, there needs to be some flexibility in flow systems. Expedites do happen, and as lean practitioners, we can’t ignore this fact. Rework also happens and we can’t ignore that either. If no flexibility exists in the FIFO system to accommodate these types of parts, then the system will fail. Let’s pretend I set up a FIFO lane and tell everyone on the shopfloor that it’s always First in, First Out no matter what. Now a customer comes along and tells us that they need work order 1234 right now. When that part arrives at my FIFO lane, it needs to jump the queue to meet the customer’s request. Now what have I done to my credibility and the credibility of the system in the eyes of the people on the shopfloor? Probably just ruined it. In Aerospace environments, some flexibility needs to be built into the system and there needs to be standard work around that flexibility. For instance, lets say I build in an expedite lane next to my standard FIFO lane. The standard work would say that the operator always pulls from the expedite lane first then the standard lane when expedite is empty. In that case you would need someone to “police” the expedite lane to make sure every part does not go there.
That's it for now - stay tuned for some more info on 2-5...

Site Steering Committee and Leadership Go-See

I recently started with a new division and one of the first things I tried to do was to resuscitate the lean steering committee. It was important that leadership was united with a common strategy and message. I think the key purposes of a lean steering committee - at least in a manufacturing environment - are as follows:
  • Develop site lean vision and continuous improvement plan
  • Prioritize and schedule projects based on CI plan and available resources - add any new projects based on input from steering committee members
  • Create a culture of continuous improvement by demonstrating and practicing the core leadership skills like coaching and recognition
  • Share best practices from across the site, across different sites and across the lean community
  • Leadership Go-See to keep momentum on open projects and to sustain completed projects
I'd like to chat a bit more about the last bullet - the leadership go-see. I'm talking more about leaderships role is driving and sustaining larger, macro level projects versus a cell level Kamishibai (discussed in an earlier post here). Before I get into it - let's take a look at this Dilbert cartoon.

I love Dilbert and like so many of Scott Adams' cartoons, this one rings incredibly true. It's hard for managers like Dilbert's pointy haired boss to ever hear the real truth about how a project is going. Project leaders will admit their struggles to everyone else - but once their boss comes asking, everything is peachy. One of the purposes of the site steering committee go-see is to create trust between project owners and leadership. It's about asking questions that are open and don't have a binary yes/no answer. An example of a closed question would be "is the team action list up to date?". While this is important, it doesn't really help the project leader. This might be the type of question the project leader's boss asks because it's his/her job to hold the leader responsible for executing. The goal of the SSC coach is ultimately to promote open discussion and remove obstacles. A better question for the coach might be "what tools does the team use to ensure the team is on track?". This would keep the project leader out of defensive mode and create more of a two-way conversation.

At sites where leadership go-see has been implemented, I've had good feedback from both the coaches and project leaders. Coaches can't be assigned to coach project leaders that work directly for them. This makes the project leaders feel a bit more comfortable right away. This also means the coach is a fresh set of eyes to the process.

Have you tried implementing leadership go-see through a Lean Steering Committee? What problems did you run into? How did it help?

Success with Interval Analysis

I have a major project coming up in the UK involving a complex mixed model value stream and shared resources. Aerospace value streams are characterized by high mix, low volumes and long leadtimes. In this type of environment, interval analysis is critical at your major shared resources. Without determining interval and figuring out a good system of "what to work on next", you can't reliably predict the leadtime through your factory. Duggan Inc (lean author/guru Kevin Duggan's consulting group) had this informative article on their website about a successful application of interval analysis at Sikorsky. A good read: http://www.dugganinc.com/cms/index.php?aid=126