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Harness the power of Andon in Lean management

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

January 13, 2023

Picture this: you’re driving along a forest road at night. Suddenly, your low-fuel light turns on. Do you ignore it and carry on until your car grinds to a stop? Hopefully not. Most likely, you stop at the next gas station, fill up, and continue on your way.

Dealing with issues before they reach a critical point is always smart — whether you’re driving or working on a production line manufacturing cars. And warning systems like the low-fuel light make this pretty easy. 

Introducing ‘Andon,’ a Japanese term with roots in manufacturing that has since gone on to help modern businesses streamline their processes. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Andon System?

Andon is a Japanese word meaning ‘lamp’ or ‘sign.’’ It refers to an alert mechanism that uses signals (such as lights on an Andon board, flags, sirens, etc.) to notify workers that there’s a problem in the production line. The team can then jump into problem-solving mode and take immediate action to rectify the situation before it worsens.

Think of it like a set of eyes watching over production operations at all times. It’s an effective tool for detecting problems early, resulting in improved product quality, increased efficiency, and cost savings. And despite having roots in manufacturing, it’s since been adopted into Lean management in all kinds of organizations to help teams act quickly. 

Andon and Jidoka: What’s the difference?

Andon is a part of Jidoka, the Japanese term for ‘automation with a human touch.’ Jidoka ensures that no defects or quality issues pass through a production line — and it relies on this Andon system of communication to help detect problems quickly and take corrective action.

Jidoka empowers people to make decisions on the spot and take ownership of their work. This can help improve efficiency and quality by addressing problems quickly before they become more significant or costly.

The benefits

Andon allows for quick resolution of any issues without halting the entire production line. It also keeps everyone informed about what’s happening and encourages employee collaboration.

Some of the key benefits are:

  • Decreased waste
  • Improved visibility in the production process
  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Reduced downtime
  • Better quality products (and happier customers because of this)
  • A production team that’s more accountable and empowered to speak out when issues arise

Two types of Andon you need to know

There are two main types of Andon systems used in Lean — manual and automatic.

Manual Andon is when an operator manually triggers the signal (e.g., by pressing a button or flipping a switch) to alert team members of any issues they’ve identified on the production line. It’s often used in smaller businesses with limited resources and/or manual production lines.

Automatic Andon, on the other hand, is triggered by sensors or equipment that detect problems within the production process (e.g., temperature changes). This type of system doesn’t require human intervention to activate; it can provide more accurate information about what’s going wrong with the production line.

Color codes explained

Most Andon systems come with a color code that helps team members understand the severity of issues within the production line. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Green = All good; no problems detected.

Yellow = Potential issue is likely. Further investigation is needed.

Red = Urgent action required to fix the problem. Operations have stopped.

Andon color codes match traffic light colors. How easy is that to remember? (Image source).

Andon in action: two real-world examples 

You can see Andon in use in the Toyota plant — it is the birthplace of the concept, after all. Each car has a nearby light traveling with it as it progresses along the production line. The light displays red, yellow, or green depending on the status of each manufacturing action.

For example, say a bolt isn’t tightened enough: the Andon light will turn yellow and alert the operator to take action. If left unchecked, the light will turn red, and production will halt.

But you don’t have to be in the manufacturing industry to benefit from Andon systems. 

Tech giant Amazon has the ‘Customer Service Andon Cord,’ which alerts customer service reps whenever a customer has received poor service or a faulty product. Here, the Andon cords aren’t physical levers and lights but a digital system that works similarly.

Leveraging Andon for rapid problem-solving

You don’t have to be a Lean expert or operate a large-scale manufacturing plant to benefit from Andon systems. They’re applicable in all kinds of environments and can automate detecting and resolving any issues in your production process.

For example, if you notice that customers’ orders are taking longer than usual to process, you could use an Andon system to alert your team so they can take action quickly — whether that’s more staff on the phones or extra support in-store. Or, if there’s an issue with your IT system, you could use a similar system to alert your team so they can investigate and solve the problem before it escalates. 

There are no limitations as to how you apply the concept. Implement it in any process where workers would benefit from issue notifications, whatever they may be. 

How to implement Andon in your organization

Implementing an Andon system into your production line can be daunting — but it’s well worth the effort. Here are some tips on making the process easier:

1. Understand your production process from start to finish. Create a visual map of the flow (we have a free flowchart tool to help you out) and identify areas where Andon systems could detect issues quickly.

2. Train your staff. Ensure everyone knows how the system works and what action to take when an alert appears.

When it comes to training staff, three things need to be in place:

  • First, workers need to feel trusted and empowered. They need to know that the alert is not a bad thing but an opportunity for them to catch a problem early, take ownership of their role, and improve processes.
  • Second, they need to know how and when to trigger the alert if they work with a manual system. This could include anything from understanding what type of issue merits an alarm to which team members to get involved when there’s an Andon warning.
  • Third, establish a culture of rapid action and problem-solving. Set realistic targets and provide support to help staff stay on track. This could include regular training sessions, team building exercises, or setting clear KPIs everyone can work towards. 

3. Install the right system. Whether you opt for physical or digital systems, choose one that meets your needs and budget.

4. Monitor progress. Review your production process regularly to ensure that any issues are dealt with quickly and efficiently and that you’ve implemented Andon in all the right places. 

How to implement an Andon system using your project management software

Project management software, like Backlog, provides an easy, streamlined way to implement Andon systems in your organization. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Create a workflow: Map out the entire process and set up tasks, triggers, and escalations as needed to ensure you identify problems quickly. It can be helpful to use diagramming software to map your processes. 

2. Assign a point of contact: Assign one or more people to take charge of the process and be responsible for taking the lead when issues arise. Add all this relevant data to the project page where everyone can see it. 

3. Track progress: Use your project software to track the status of each task and alert the relevant team members when necessary. Targeted notifications take the strain out of this, leaving you and your team to focus on the work. 

4. Monitor performance: Use reports and analytics to measure the effectiveness of your system and identify areas for improvement. After all, production lines change, and you need to stay up-to-date to be efficient. 

Final thoughts 

The Andon system is an invaluable tool in any Lean process. It gives your staff the power to take ownership of their role and solve problems quickly, making production lines more efficient. By following the above tips and using the right software for the job, you can implement it simply and successfully into your organization and get the most out of this powerful tool.



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