A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



97 Agile Ideas - Idea Number 21

The Andon Line

This is definitely an Agile idea, a story that's told. What the actual practice is, and where it can be found is possibly a different matter.

The way the story goes, on the Toyota production line there is a pull-cord above the head of the workers. If the workers pull the cord, the line stops.

Everybody on the line understands that if they see a problem with something either as it comes to them on the line, or as they are doing there work on the line, they should pull the cord.

Pulling the cord results in the focus now being shifted to getting the line moving again. Investigating the source of the problem, possibly using a method known as the "5 Whys" or root cause analysis. Investigating possible solutions to the problem and then implementing them.

Use of the Andon line has two important benefits:

1) Very few things that are faulty get the whole way down the production line.

2) It's hard for management to persuade anyone that things are going well when the line isn't moving. This focuses the whole organisation on getting the line moving when it isn't and keeping it moving when it is.

How does this translate into software development? It's a good question. In Scrum there is a notion of "abandoning the sprint" if it becomes obvious that the things that were planned in sprint planning are either the wrong thing or simply aren't possible. But perhaps the most important thing we can take from this idea is the notion of the power of making management subservient to production.