Implementing the Andon cord

Using retrospectives to improve your organization

Wes Meacham
Wes Meacham
Co-Founder / Design
Implementing the Andon cord

In the mid 20th century, Toyota established a system for production and culture within their manufacturing plants. After the implementation of this system, they saw unprecedented success for the better part of 50 years. One of the innovations that they implemented was giving every factor-line worker the ability to stop the line if a problem arose. They did not need to ask for permission. They were trusted with the ability to identify problems and given the tools to fix them.

The “Andon Cord”, as Toyota called it, was a smart way to get problems identified quickly. However, what it represents is much more important, it represents trust.

In their book The people Equation; Why Innovation Is People, Not Products, Deborah Perry Piscione and David Crawley talk about the importance of trust within an organization.

“When mutual trust and respect for the individual are present, they are a self-reinforcing pair that enables an attitude of psychological safety to exist and further business success.”

Many software development shops have their own version of the Andon Cord. It’s called a Retrospective. There are several ways to conduct and run a retro, but the underlying principle is that the team gets together to discuss what went well, what failed, and how to improve. The best retros build a community of trust. Everyone is given a voice and a platform to bring up critical problems or praise. When done right, retrospectives can contribute to a culture of safety and propel innovation by allowing people to be at the forefront of problem-solving.

While having retrospectives has been common in the software development industry, it does not need to be limited to software development. At Pulse For Good, we have a product that helps organizations gather client-satisfaction feedback. When we saw all the wonderful data that was coming in, we were ecstatic. Yet, we quickly realized that all that data didn’t do much good if it wasn’t used to enact change.

We decided to send out to our customers some listening boxes — essentially a get-started-doing-retros kit. We included a book on how to conduct retros, post-it notes, and markers, along with some goodies. We wanted our customers to respond to the data that they had received to improve and make their organization better because we know when organizations get better, trust is built and vulnerable individuals are helped.