Improve CAD Production Quality by Annoying Your Users, Part 3

13 Feb, 2013 By: Robert Green

Transferring the burden of problem solving to the users who cause the problems is a great strategy — but only if you can take yourself out of the process.

In the past two installments of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I discussed enforcing CAD standards by shifting a problem back to the person who caused it, thereby annoying the violator into compliance. I adapted this annoyance transfer methodology from The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, a book by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan that changed the way I think about standards enforcement.

In this continuation of the series, we'll explore how to make annoyance transfer a permanent part of CAD quality-control processes by using the widely recognized "andon cord" methodology, which helps avoid the need for the CAD manager to micromanage the effort. Here goes.

Fine-Tuning the Annoyance Transfer Process

The Achilles' heel of my annoyance transfer method is that someone — usually the CAD manager — has to keep up with all standards and quality violations and assign the fix (annoyance) to the correct person (the offender). Experience tells me that this degree of effort will be too time-consuming for many CAD managers to sustain over the long term. And we all know that when the CAD manager becomes disengaged from the process, it is usually just a matter of time before everyone reverts to past behaviors.

What's required is a system that empowers all CAD users to call attention to problems and assign the required fix (annoyance) to the user who caused the problem. Once this becomes part of operational procedure, the CAD manager can step away, confident that CAD quality issues — some of them, at any rate — will take care of themselves.

Does such a system exist, you may ask? Well, what if we allowed every user in our CAD environment to raise a flag when he or she encounters an error, and then focused our attention on fixing that problem? What if this system alerted management to the existence and cause of the problem? What if this system became so ingrained in our processes that CAD users had no doubt that everybody from the lowest user to the highest manager was concerned about CAD quality?

CAD files are the result of a sequential process, just as cars are the final product of an assembly line. In both cases, identifying and fixing problems along the way is essential to creating a high-quality finished product.

A system very similar to what I've described has been in use in manufacturing environments for years; it is called the "andon cord" methodology. Made famous in Toyota's car manufacturing plants, the andon cord has become highly successful in a variety of industries. (For more details, see David Magee's book, How Toyota Became #1: Leadership Lessons from the World's Greatest Car Company.)

If you've ever been on a bus where riders can pull a cord to tell the driver to stop, you understand what a stop cord is. Under the andon cord approach, you attach a stop cord to a highly visible alert light called an andon (a Japanese term for lantern), empower every worker in the factory to pull the cord whenever they spot a problem, and halt the assembly line until the problem is fixed. That's what Toyota does.

Such a system provides the following benefits: 

  • Everyone is alerted when an error takes place, and everyone knows where the error occurred.
  • Everyone stays focused on the problem until it's fixed and the light is turned off.
  • Quality improves as workers in each department strive to prevent their andon from lighting up!

An andon alert light signals the source of a manufacturing problem. (Source: Andon Otomasyon and Mustafa Sari, Wikimedia Commons; reused under GNU Free Documentation License.)

Create Your Own Andon Cord System

Obviously, we can't have a giant cord and illuminated signs in an architect's or engineer's office; however, we can create our own virtual andon system. Use the following guidelines to get started:

  • Identify. Explain to all CAD users that standards violations need to be dealt with via the andon system. Everyone should be on the lookout for problems and identify violations as they pop up.
  • Alert. Andon alert e-mails are sent to all project/department managers when problems are discovered. You may have users send the alerts themselves, or have their immediate supervisor do it. Either way, you’ll need to create a standard e-mail format and train users on its use, but the point is alerts are sent when violations are identified.
  • Explain. Andon alerts spell out the problem, the project name, which department identified it, and which department must fix the problem. For example: The project manager has discovered final PDF documentation for fire-protection system layouts are not on correct sheet sizes and do not use project-specified borders. The electrical design department is responsible for recitifying the sheets to use proper borders, regenerate PDF files, and resubmit to the project manager.
  • Respond. Andon response teams from each department (senior CAD users or project managers, as defined in your procedures) determine who made the error and assign the appropriate rework to the responsible parties. The annoyance of having to respond quickly to fix the problem is now on the deparment/user who made the mistake in the first place!
  • Document. The documentation of the entire andon process is in your e-mail logs, and can be tracked that way.

Of course, you’ll want to run these steps past your project managers and users as you move towards andon implementation (more on this shortly). The more you think about how your andon process will address your company's unique needs, the better that process will ultimately be.

Andon and Annoyance

CAD managers stand to benefit by combining the concepts of the andon cord and annoyance transfer. When someone pulls the virtual andon cord in your CAD process, the response teams that are charged with fixing the problem will know (or can quickly find out) who caused the problem and will force that user to fix it. And because all project managers involved with the project receive the andon alerts, it quickly becomes obvious to everyone which departments are making errors.

I love that this approach uses annoyance in two ways:

  • Project managers are annoyed by errors their departments make.
  • Those who make errors are annoyed by having to fix them.

So not only does this method get the CAD problems fixed, it also makes people want to avoid making errors in the first place.

As the andon response team approach takes root, you should start to see the same benefits that Toyota experienced:

  • Mistakes are addressed promptly.
  • Workers who make errors are identified and can receive proper training.
  • Any procedural problems that lead to errors — such as issues related to standards or documentation — are identified and can be fixed.
  • Everyone on the team takes pride in doing work properly and is motivated to prevent errors.

Great Model for CAD Standards Enforcement

The more I've thought about the andon process, the more I've come to realize what a brilliant strategy it is for optimizing and enforcing CAD standards while making the absolute best use of available tools and methods. But more than just being about standards, the andon method says the following things loud and clear:

  • Anyone in the production process can — and is strongly encouraged to — "pull the cord" when standards-related problems are found.
  • Responsible parties must fix their own mistakes.
  • Continuous improvement is the goal.

Have the Discussion in Your Company

Obviously, your senior management team has to support the andon approach in order for it to work. If senior management says, "Quality and productivity are hugely important to us, which is why we want to see the andon method work," then your users will pay attention. Project-level management needs to be on board also. This means you'll need to think through how you'll implement your e-mail alert systems and define your andon response teams before you pitch the idea.

The key benefits you must stress are:

  • efficiency
  • improved quality
  • reduced rework (man-hour savings)

Even if you don't convince all members of management to support the idea, you may get a few departments to agree with the approach so you can test the concept and prove its worth.

Summing Up

The more I manage CAD, the more I've come to believe that good systems based on solid management concepts are what make a CAD manager successful. I hope this series on annoyance transfer and andon cord quality management concepts has persuaded you to base your CAD standards systems on these well-tested processes. And if you have any suggestions you'd like to share, please e-mail me. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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