Fast-tracking crisis management with the Andon Cord Slack command

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The desire for social approval is a powerful motivator. It can be very useful to us in our work when it ensures that we stick to the promises that we make (or at least act to repair the damage done when we can’t stick to them), but it can also sometimes work against the interests of the wider group. Fear of making oneself look foolish or of causing annoyance to others can prevent us from speaking up on important matters, leaving teams and leaders ignorant of issues that need urgent attention. That’s why, at Deeson, we’ve come up with a new way for team members to flag up problems in a way that’s anonymous but also guarantees immediate attention from senior people: the Andon Cord Slack command.

What’s an Andon Cord?

If you’ve ever done any training in Agile or Lean methodologies, you’ve probably already heard of the Toyota Production System. This was the management philosophy and set of practices developed by Toyota in post-war Japan that revolutionised manufacturing, catalysed the country’s ‘economic miracle’ and gave birth to what we know today as lean manufacturing and just-in-time production. It stressed the importance of continuous improvement in processes and product quality, tackling problems by aiming at their root causes and, perhaps most importantly, respect for people.

On the production line, this respect for the autonomy of front-line workers was reflected in a system called the Andon Cord. This was literally a piece of rope that, when pulled, would shut down the entire line. The idea being that every team member was capable of spotting a quality or process problem that required immediate attention. The line wouldn’t fire up again until the team had found a solution. This not only prevents the production of quantities of defective items, it also reinforces a problem-solving mindset among the team and the continual striving for improvement. And because the bright red cord was clearly there to be pulled by whoever spotted an issue, it short-circuited the chain-of-command structure of the company, conferring autonomy on the production-line worker.

The idea of the Andon Cord has since been exported far and wide, due to its usefulness in any process where there’s a risk of problems causing a lot of damage if left unattended to. Amazon uses a form of Andon Cord in its customer services teams, where the elimination of waste is a key component of their market dominance. There frontline customer service agents were empowered to take product down from the website if it garnered multiple complaints about the same defect.

Why does Deeson need an Andon cord?

While we’re not pumping out thousands of identical widgets on a daily basis, we are guided in our delivery processes by many of the same principles that Toyota came up with for manufacturing cars. We strive to continuously improve quality and innovate on the digital experiences we deliver for clients, we try to tackle problems at their root, and we aim to make sure we treat everyone with respect — clients and team members alike. A key part of that is recognising that it’s the people on the front line who will experience problems first and providing them the psychological safety they need to escalate those problems quickly — before they result in bigger problems ‘down the line’.

And that doesn’t just apply to problems with our own internal tech and processes, it also applies to team-client relationships. The people who interact on a daily basis with the client are the ones who are going to first notice that we’re losing the client’s confidence. That’s a problem we need to deal with straight away — we can’t afford a delay because the person who’s spotted it is new to the team and unsure of process, or afraid of causing annoyance for the senior team.

That’s why we’ve come up with a handy Slack command that anyone can use to instantly put a project into crisis mode.

How does the Andon Cord Slack command work?

Whenever a team member spots an issue that requires immediate attention, they just use:

/andon

In the Slack channel for that project. The command then prompts them to enter the relevant details. The delivery leadership team is then notified so that they can help guide and assist the team in finding a solution. In the meantime, the team downs tools until the crisis is resolved.

The process that then ensues will no doubt evolve as we start using the new tool — at the moment we’re not sure how many ‘cord pulls’ to expect and the severity of the issues we’ll see, since we want to leave the judgement of when to pull the cord entirely up to individuals — but at the moment it involves quickly assembling a ‘resolution team’ to investigate and meet daily until a solution is found that everyone agrees on. Post resolution, we’ll look at the root causes of each crisis in the team retrospective and share any learnings company wide.

Can we get an Andon Cord for our Slack channels?

Yes, soon. Once we’ve given it a good test run and ironed out any wrinkles, we’ll be open sourcing the command for anyone to use in any kind of business. We’ll publish an updated version of this post when that happens — so keep an eye on your feed readers!

Originally posted on the Deeson blog https://www.deeson.co.uk/blog/fast-tracking-crisis-management-andon-cord-slack-command

Written by

Delivery Director at @DeesonAgency

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