Andon Cord is a Lean manufacturing principle and tool used to notify management, maintenance, and other workers of a quality or process problem. The concept revolves around a device incorporating signal lights to indicate which assembly line workstation has a problem. Normally alerts are activated manually by a worker using a pull cord (Andon cord) or button, or may be activated automatically by the production equipment itself. The system may include a means to stop production so the issue can be corrected.
The Andon System was developed as one of the principal elements of the Jikoda quality method pioneered by Toyota as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and has become part of the lean manufacturing approach. Andon cord gives the worker the ability, and moreover the empowerment, to stop production when a defect is found, and immediately call for assistance.
There are stories about individuals from companies who have toured Toyota’s facilities as part of the Kaizen Institute tours who are shocked when they are introduced to Toyota’s Andon Cord concept. They are usually in shock that someone on the factory floor can pull a cord and possibly shut down the entire factory. The question is always how much does this cost and why would you allow an individual to have this kind of power. The answer from Toyota is always the same, it costs about $1 million dollars to shut down the entire assembly line, but if they allowed the line to continue it could cost them millions of dollars down the line.
What is really important in understanding Andon Cord from Toyota is the underlying reason they created it, In Japanese culture, the importance of harmony is critically important. Because of the overwhelming need for harmony, people often won’t naturally speak up. They might be more willing to cover up a problem than to really fix it. So, the Andon Cord is a mechanism that makes it easier for people to speak up. Because it “doesn’t come naturally,” Toyota needed a system to make it possible.
So how does this apply directly to DevOps and software development? The reality is that if we look closely at most software development projects, we have all probably seen the following. During the development of the project individuals openly talk about all of the bugs in the application, that it isn’t what the customer really wants and its being rushed and the technical debt is piling up. Even though everyone involved is openly talking about the issues, the project just keeps moving forward without dealing with any of these issues.
This is where DevOps comes in and can incorporate the Andon Cord concept. There are two specific areas that come to mind, first if an organization has truly flipped the testing pyramid and put full automated testing in place in conjunction with Continuous Integration, Specification by Example and a tool such as SonarQube, this can be the first place the Andon Cord concept can be employed. By forcing all new code to run the gauntlet of full automated testing (driven by Specification by Example) and SonarQube’s quality gates you are making sure it meets the expected behaviors specified by the customer and the code quality is in line with expected standards.