Keeping processes in order
Brad Cairns is a partner at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He also owns Best Damn Doors, a cabinet door manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ontario.

There are inherent sequences built into our world. When things are done out of the sequence, we all look at it and say that’s ridiculous. But the real importance of sequencing shows up when the sequence flat out fails if it’s done in the wrong order. If there is even the hint of possibility that it will work albeit with a lot more struggle, than all of a sudden we allow that to be possible and find ourself doing things out of sequence. It’s almost as if the universe has forced us into this predicament and we have absolutely no other choice.

I’m going to Anthony Robbins here: “We always get what we need, we don’t always get what we want.“

Making coffee

Let’s take the example of making a coffee. If the dishwasher is washing all of the mugs, and it’s not gonna stop running for another two minutes, it would be ridiculous to be in such a hurry that you just dump the coffee on the counter, mix in your sugar and cream, and then try to squeegee it into your mug when the dishwasher is finished. I think it’s safe to say no one on earth would do this. We would all wait for the mug to be ready before we poured our coffee.

So, riddle me this, Batman, why is it when I walk into almost every cabinet shop there are boxes stacked everywhere with no doors on them? We all know without question that the fastest way to build anything is 100-percent complete and handled only once. That means the proper sequence to building a cabinet is something like: lay out all your parts, put on your hardware, assemble the cabinet, hang the doors and drawers, wrap for shipping, and you’re done.

Why then so often do we allow boxes to get built before the door arrives? Is this not the same as pouring coffee on the counter before the mug is available?

Production triggers

That was a rhetorical question. Why are we letting this happen? It’s because we have a system problem, and the solution is quite simple. You just need to use some production triggers. Just as important as developing the production trigger is having the discipline to stick to it. Let’s talk about a few simple production triggers that you can implement right away.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that when you start a project it shouldn’t stop until it’s finished. This might mean waiting till your longest lead time item is in house before you start cutting. All too often we think we’re going to save time by building the project while we wait for those items, but the reality is, if our supply chain is not reliable enough, then this could backfire with huge implications.

Let’s assume you buy your doors and drawers, there are some custom parts that need to be made and then there’s the cabinet boxes.

Starting with your outsourced components, if your suppliers are giving you their lead time rather than arranging their production around your required date, I would consider this an unreliable supply chain. My first production trigger would be when all outsourced materials are in house and accounted for. This would trigger the manufacture of the custom parts. This will ensure all your custom components and doors arrive in your finishing room at the same time.

The next trigger could be when all those parts and doors are getting their last coat of finish, we trigger the cutting of all the boxes. This will ensure all the finished product is waiting in assembly before the boxes arrive. Then once assembly begins, it’s a one-touch process.

Don’t ignore the office

The same principle applies in the office while your design team is asking customers to pick finish and hardware. All too often these things aren’t picked soon enough in the process, causing delays in manufacturing. Having go-no-go checkpoints and triggers in the design process is just as critical as out on the shop floor. We haven’t been to a factory yet where most of the problems didn’t originate in design/engineering area.

You might think this sounds oversimplified but I’ll quote my friend Paul Akers: “Smart people can’t believe it’s this simple.“

You will absolutely run into hiccups and problems that seem to want to force your hand into doing things out of the ideal order. Just as if you set your shirt on fire, stop, drop and roll. Well, perhaps swap out the drop and roll for “get with the team” and “root cause why.”

In the example of building boxes before the doors arrive, find out why. Chase that trail all the way up the purchasing office and further if necessary. You might end up right on the doorstep of your vendor. Is their lead time past what your customers are willing to wait for? Maybe they need you to introduce them to some lean thinking. But ultimately no customer cares if you or your supply chain is lean, they just want their stuff. It could be you need to source new vendors.

10,000 reasons

Perhaps it’s not that drastic, and you find out your purchasing trigger isn’t soon enough. There literally could be 10,000 reasons why your sequence is getting a wrench thrown in the works. And to make it even better (and by better, I mean worse) there could be a few reasons stacked up.

Don’t be discouraged if you solve one problem just to have another crop up. Trust me when I say you won’t likely deliver to your customer any faster if you build the boxes then have the doors show up later, as compared to not building anything until all the parts are available.

I know, I know, it seems faster to keep the shop going, but the chaos created by doing that just gobbles up any time you might have saved.

Just take some time with your team, determine the proper order of operations the most efficient way to get something out the door, put in production triggers and go-no-go checkpoints. Then, as if your life depends on it, stick to it.



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About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is a partner at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He puts lean thinking in action at My Door Factory, a cabinet door manufacturing business he founded in St. Thomas, Ontario. And he is also founder of Stolbek, a machinery manufacturer. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].