Man vs. Machine

Let machines do what machines do well. Let people do what people do well. 

Machines do one thing well. They perform a repetitive task with consistency. Note that I did not say quality, only consistency. One of the things that Toyota expects its machines to do consistently is to check for errors. It’s called Autonomation (automation with a human touch) and it falls under a pillar of principles known as Jidoka. Jidoka basically means “When there is a problem, stop and fix it” and one of the Lean sayings based on this is “Stop production so you don’t have to stop production.”

People do not do that one thing very well. People are adaptable and as such are not designed to do the same thing the same way. Furthermore, because they are adaptable, they’ll often just deal with a problem instead of stopping to fix it. Getting people to stop, call for help, and fix a problem requires training. Lean is about finding, facing and fixing problems, but people have learned that stopping for a problem doesn’t make them any friends, particularly among managers and supervisors. People can do the same thing in slightly different ways repetitively but it does not take advantage of their skill set so, in general, they should not be used for this purpose.

Skills that people have include communication, observation, problem solving, thinking, inspection, learning, measurement, planning, judgment, and decision making, but perhaps a person’s greatest advantage over a machine is his ability to care. To take advantage of this skill the person must be engaged in challenging, meaningful work of value to a larger end. This will unlock further human potentials and business assets like insight, leadership, inspiration, excellence, growth, and team spirit.

The attempts to impart these human qualities to machines while simultaneously expecting machine work from people is in large part a result of failure to provide this meaningful level of work for people. This makes the performance of both the machine and it’s operator a disappointment which ironically drives machine and people development further along the wrong path. Quality, production, people AND machines all suffer.

Use robotics and machinery to enable people. That’s what they do best. Let people do what they do best: give a damn. The key is to respect the value of work and people and machines to ensure we get the highest potential from both.

“Respect is the only truly essential Lean tool”

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