Quality and Total Quality
Although it is often much more seen in a manufacturing or production environment, just-in-time management can be applied in a range of different workplaces to many operational and administrative practices. It is therefore worthwhile for all organizational leaders to appreciate what the just-in-time process (or JIT as it is called for short) is all about and how they might benefit from it.
Wherever it is introduced JIT aims to be a way of improving organizational flexibility and of meeting customer demand with greater certainty. It is also a means of running an organization’s operations in a way which concentrates on adding value while minimizing waste. The concept of the customer setting the standards and determining what is needed and by when, is fundamentally different from a “push” system which tends to estimate or guess what a customer wants and then tries to provide it (which inevitably leads to some overproduction or wasted effort and product).
Just-in-time systems have the following characteristics:
- They emphasize the importance of managing the entire supplier/customer chain, where you supply the next person or team in the chain between your suppliers and the end customer with exactly (as near as possible) what is needed to add value to what you have done – and you in turn are also seen and treated as a customer by your suppliers.
- Participation and involvement involves all the people within the operation to break down artificial barriers, raise flexibility, facilitate the flow of information and communications in all directions (and helps to build teams in the process).
- Seeks to meet customer requirements and supply a product or a service to your internal customers only when they want it, in the quantity they want and at the necessary quality.
In other words, just-in-time management is about creating efficiency by close control over exactly what is needed by the process, by when and in exactly the right quantity and at the right quality levels.
Just-in-time management is based on a number of principles that in combination help it to work effectively. The most popular of these principles are Kanban, Quality, Flexible “batches” of work, Physical layout, Information management, Culture and people management and Communication strategy. Let’s look briefly at the key characteristics of each of these one by one:
Kanban, the basis of a pull system of managing operations, is information flowing in one direction and production flowing in the other to meet the requirements that the information provides – but Kanban needs the other elements below to make it work.
Quality, which is checked at each stage or the process (and not just at the end) so that each part of the internal customer chain can add value – if the quality is not right, then the system fails as the process is slowed down for reworking and people start to play it safe and re-invent the push system, building up reserve or buffer stocks, just-in-case.
Flexibility, particularly as it relates to “batch” sizes and skills, so that the need for large batch-production in the push system can be reduced and the cost of waste associated with high volumes of work-in-progress sitting around can reduce with it.
Physical layout, or arrangement of operations, machinery and processes. For example, any warehouses or stores containing raw materials from external suppliers may need to be at the center of the workplace rather than at the back or away from the major work operations – like the hub of a wheel with each of the operations needing access being handily placed.
Information management at every stage of the process and for each person or team involved is normally given a high priority in just-in-time systems so that the operational flow is both effective and efficient (as well as completely open about what is happening).
Culture and people being reviewed, developed and trained. In a just-in-time system, an organization is fundamentally about people, not equipment, and the way people work depends on their understanding and commitment as a team and their perception of how they are treated and valued.
Communication strategy, in a just-in-time system is planned to ensure that it is open and flows well in all necessary directions, not least with external suppliers who should be seen (by them and by you) as part of the operation, with all that entails.
In summary, JIT is a production or operational model in which products or services (including information) are created to meet demand, not created in surplus or in advance of need. The purpose of JIT is to avoid the waste associated with overproduction, waiting and excess inventory.