Shojinka and Soifuku: multi-purpose staff and new ideas


The versatility of many production systems, such as the Toyota Production System, which we have seen in several previous publications, requires that many of its resources adapt to the variable demand of a great diversity of products. Human resource is no exception. It is useless to have strictly defined roles and activities for each member of the organization, if the processes change dynamically, adapting to a specific need. If the staff has a defined task, perhaps in some situations it has to be idle, or in others it can not provide. For this, the concept of shojinka (人家 人家), or “polyvalence of personnel” appears.

What does it consist of? Operators are able to perform various functions, depending on the need. Staff are trained to be competent in various positions, which they will occupy dynamically as needed. That a person has the capacity to fill different positions does not mean that he / she performs simultaneously. This is why it must be distinguished from the concept of multi-tasking, which means performing different activities at the same time. This is not the case, since the shojinka seeks that the person is formed in different activities, but only perform the one that corresponds at the right time. We could say that it is a multi-skill.

The advantages of using shojinka are many. For example, the employee has a global and finished vision of all the processes, since it is active participant of many of them. By having permanent training the person feels valued, making him feel proud of his work and his results. It also encourages teamwork, the contribution of ideas, the detection of opportunities for improvement and the resolution of problems. By varying position and location, the worker reduces the probability of saturation or boredom, a situation that could lead to demotivation and mediocrity. All of this allows for high flexibility and excellent response to changes in demand.

For the success of the shojinka as a methodology, it is important that the capabilities of each employee are clearly defined, that the operational routes and layout of the plant (the distribution of processes and people physically within it) are clearly known. Flowcharts are usually used to represent the different possibilities, which must be accessible to all and used according to need. If all this is defined correctly, it will surely reduce the muda (the waste), both in dead times, and in immobilized inventory. Increased knowledge of the processes by the staff will also reduce accidents. In general, the processes are arranged in manufacturing cells, in the form of «U», known as chaku-chaku. We will deal with this issue later in another publication.

As complement to shojinka appears the concept of soifuku that consists in that the employees propose new ideas. The degree of involvement and commitment generated by shojinka allows employees to come up with ideas in order to improve process performance.

One of the main goals of shojinka is to use as few employees as possible, ie achieve a certain level of productivity with the least amount of personnel involved, the optimum. This minimization of personnel is known as shoninka and is one of the pillars of shojinka, along with a maximization of each person’s abilities.

Shojinka and Soifuku: multi-purpose staff and new ideas

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