Ever wonder if there was a way to produce more while using less man power? Of course you have: minimizing inputs while maximizing output is a business 101 concept that we carry with us from day one, and struggle to fully tackle throughout our entire careers.
What if I told you its really possible to do more with less?
Well there is, and it has a name: Shojinka. Also known as “flexible manufacturing” or “flexible staffing,” Shojinka is a Japanese term born from Toyota’s lean manufacturing principles. Since becoming widely publicized in the 1980′s, lean manufacturing has been integrated into countless companies in an effort to minimize wasted input in production. The concept of flexible staffing is a top performer in lean theory. Let’s take a look at it in more depth.
Shojinka is defined as having two main distinguishing elements: First, is that workers are multi-skilled and can work multiple stations in the production chain. Second, the assembly line is “U-shaped” instead of traditionally linear (it is important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that a production or assembly line is actually shaped like a “U”, though this is often the case).
The main advantages of flexible staffing are that staff are flexible. What this really means is that workers are trained in all, or at least most, parts of production. This allows them to be moved around as demand changes. A flexible workforce let’s your efficiency remain high under any production demands, instead of just an ideal, pre-determined set – as is the case with a linear production line of highly-specialized workers. Additionally, Shojinka makes it possible for employees to work on various side or improvement products when demand is low across the board. Not only is your workforce more efficient at varying levels of demand, but they also can swap between these levels quicker in a production floor that is setup correctly. The U shaped production line keeps inputs and final outputs on the same side of the room, which can help with transportation and shipping. It also allows works to easily move between the beginning and end stages of an assembly line without walking its entire length.
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Once implemented, there are virtually no disadvantages to a Shojinka work line. However, implementing flexible staffing requires you to jump some major hurdles to start off. To start, your employees will need to be trained in all aspects of your operation; this is one of the major upfront investments you’ll have to make. Next, you need to standardize each stage of production so that there is less specialization required to do each job; sometimes this is achieved by breaking up complex tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. You need to have protocols, or a “playbook” drawn up to help direct your employees. The playbook’s main purpose is to inform your employees of where they should be at various levels of production. This type of self-management is essential, because managing a flexible staff is much more hands-on than overseeing a standard line of production.
Despite these upfront costs, footing the bill in the early stages in order to integrate Shojinka is worth it in the end, your workforce becomes exponentially more streamlined. If you need help, agencies that specialize in lean manufacturing practices can help you implement these changes.
Updated March 8 2014 – Ben Geck