Demystifying Toyota’s Andon System: How It Works and Common Misconceptions

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There's a common misconception about Toyota's “Andon” system, often expressed as:

“When a team member pulls the cord, the line stops.”

But that's not entirely accurate, as this enlightening Toyota video demonstrates:


In some plants, the Andon system is activated by pressing a button rather than pulling an overhead cord.

I wrote about that a decade ago:

Here's the key: the line halts only if the issue isn't resolved within the job's cycle time.

Most of the time, problems are swiftly resolved without any interruption to that segment of the line.

Another misconception is that the ENTIRE assembly line stops. Strategic buffers between line segments allow other parts to continue running smoothly. Read more about this via Christopher Roser.

The Andon system exemplifies the mutual trust and respect integral to Toyota's culture.

Team members trust they won't face repercussions for using the system–they know they'll receive prompt assistance from team leaders.

Conversely, leaders trust their teams to use the Andon system judiciously, avoiding unnecessary halts in production.

For a deeper insight into how Toyota fosters a culture of problem-solving and collaboration, watch the video here.

Let's continue exploring how these principles can transform our workplaces! What other misperceptions have you heard about “Andon”?


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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