Gemba, Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement, The Leader

Teaching your eyes to see

An important skill for leaders is to learn to “see”.  This means seeing beyond what most people see, or at least a different perspective of the same image.  Teaching your eyes to see is a learned skill, that once mastered, opens your eyes to many new things.

Teaching your eyes to see

An example of teaching your eyes to see that I experienced while on an in depth TPS training in Japan several years ago involved learning to see 1/10th of a second kaizens.  1/10th of second is very difficult to see and is the slightest of hand motions, movements, or on equipment, tiny adjustments.  We were given the task to reduce the cycle time within a production line by 30 seconds, but to do so through 1/10th of a second kaizens.  Well, being experienced operations guys and after observing the line for several cycles, it was obvious what needed to be done.  With some changes to the layout moving equipment closer together, adjusting the material flow, and some other equipment modifications, the 30 seconds was a done deal.  As part of the training, we had to prepare a scaled drawing detailing each of our kaizen ideas.  The drawings would be reviewed by the Sensei and if approved, they would be implemented.  On day one, we spent several hours drafting our kaizen ideas and provided the completed drawings for review and approval.  The Sensei took one look at the proposals and proceeded to tear them in pieces and literally threw them in our faces and shouted “1/10th of a second kaizens”.  This happened several times for most of the day.  We were ready to kill this guy, but then suddenly, like a light switch, we were able to see these subtle movements of waste and we could see 1/10th of a second kaizens.

Although, I don’t advocate this method of teaching, it does emphasize the point that we do need to learn to see; to really see what is, or what is not happening in a process.  It is important to see those subtle forms of waste, abnormalities, opportunities, and I suggest, clues that then beg questions.  Usually good questions!

As an example, one time while on a gemba, we came across a box of rubber gloves attached to a column of the building.  Above the box was a sign that said “Gloves are for hazardous material spills only”.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  This was crazy on so many levels!  I didn’t just see a poorly made sign and duct taped glove box.  I saw many questions and concerns such as:

  • How often are there hazardous material spills happening?
  • Are spills so frequent that we think we need gloves conveniently placed?
  • Are these spills actually “hazardous materials”?!?!?!
  • With the gloves free for the taking, are hazardous material spills happening and not being reported?
  • Does the leadership even know when the spills are happening and investigating?
  • How are the gloves and wastes from the spills being disposed?
  • Assuming for a minute that it was a good practice to have the gloves available, how do they get replenished?
  • Are the people cleaning up these spills properly and adequately trained?
  • Why are spills happening in the first place?
  • Who the heck authorized this?


SONY DSCThis example is pretty astounding, scary and may seem hard to believe, but yet it is true.  It is even more disturbing that many leaders walked right past this sign during the gemba and didn’t even notice it.  Even more frightful, the building leadership had walked past it many, many times and didn’t really “see” it!


So how do you learn to see?  Practice.

Go to the floor with a specific purpose to learn to see.  For example, go with a focus to see one specific thing such as arm over reaching, bending, twisting, outdated signs or posters, trip hazards, pinch points, sign effectiveness and meaning, opportunities to cause product damage, unnecessary motion, a specific type waste stream, sources of floor debris, etc, etc.  The point is dedicate an appropriate amount of time to see a very specific focus.  Look for that focus and only that focus.  When you see it, ask yourself as many questions as you can about that particular item.  See beyond the obvious.  Look for deeper meaning, symptoms, evidence, abnormalities.  Repeat often with a new or different focus.  With practice you will soon see these things naturally and without effort.  Once you learn to see, you won’t be able to turn it off.

Nope, it’s not rocket science.  Seems too easy, right?  Try it, you’ll like it!

How did you learn or teach others to see?  Leave a comment and let me know!  If you found this article useful or interesting, please “like” it to give me feedback so I know what is of interest to you.




Gemba, Lean and Continuous Improvement

The best place for a meeting… is on the roof!

So where is the most effective place to have a meeting?

At the process, point of discussion, or the place that is most effective at visualizing your point of view, problem, or solution.

After only a couple of years of operation of a new automotive paint shop, the engineering team brought a capital project to me for approval to replace the cooling tower on the roof.  It had basically rusted out.  Without it we could not operate the paint shop.  The cost of the project was $3.5M and it was not budgeted.  Since it was out of budget, we had to request additional funding from the overall capital “emergency” fund which subsequently needed the President’s approval.  After I had reviewed and approved, I requested the engineer to schedule the review with the President as soon as possible and to schedule it on the roof of the plant.  He looked at me and said “pardon?”.  I repeated a-c-4-1446676-640x480(1)myself.  He said there was no way the President would go up on the roof.  I told him to schedule the meeting and I would look after getting the President to the roof.

Given that the existing unit was only 3 years old, I was concerned that we would be told to patch it up somehow.  There was no way that would have worked.  We would then need to come back again with additional quotes, justifications, reasons why fixing it would not work, or we would have to attempt to repair it.  We didn’t have this kind of time.  Sure, pictures might have worked, but after seeing the pictures and the actual condition myself, there was no comparison.  Within a couple of minutes of the President being on the roof and seeing the actual condition he said “where do I sign”.

So why is it so many meetings to discuss problems and proposals are scheduled in meeting rooms or offices?   Get out on the floor, the process, or the place that is most effective at visualizing your point of view, problem, or solution.

A picture may be worth a 1,000 words, but seeing is believing!

The saying “seeing is believing” is very accurate and you can learn a lot by going and seeing.  It gives you the opportunity to see or tell the real story.  It’s a lot more difficult to exaggerate or downplay something when everyone involved sees the same thing.  Additional eyes may also see different things that otherwise would go unnoticed.

As a leader have you ever had someone on your team advise you of a problem and then tell you everything is under control or “it’s not that bad”?  Later it blows up on you and you wonder what the heck just happened.  Or the opposite, where the “sky is falling” and you push the defcom5 button only to find out it was really nothing at all?  Alternatively, maybe you have tried to get something approved that was absolutely necessary and the need was obvious to you, but your boss sent you away multiple times to answer questions or get more data?  Now, how different would things have been had you gone to the location to see the specific problem or topic of discussion?

Whether it’s a process, piece of equipment, software, administrative function, or procedure, go & see it with your own eyes.  Or if you are the one making the proposal, explaining the problem, or making the case, take the team to the best location that supports your point of view and position on the subject matter.

So get out of the conference room and go to the roof!  Go and See!


Lean and Continuous Improvement

Stop repeating bad history…

Key to Sustaining Systems and Mechanisms

Often when we are solving problems, we find several parts of our systems or mechanisms are no longer being followed or are non-existent.  So, we put them all back in place and even create some new ones.  High fives, back slaps, great job!  Then a few months later, we are surprised that they are gone again!  Why?  Usually it is because we took one-time actions and did not build in sustainable components within the system or mechanism.  In fact, without these sustaining components, it’s not really a system or mechanism at all.

To complete or sustain your systems or mechanisms, be sure to include these three components as a minimum:

  1. Training

    • Initial training – align everyone on how to, expectations, and any technical aspects.
    • New hire/ new to team training – ensure anyone that joins the team after the initial training receives the training to avoid partial training and the “photocopy of a photocopy” level of knowledge and skill base transfer.
    • Refresher/re-certification training – establish a regular cadence to refresh the team to avoid erosion of the basics and reduce the creeping in of non-standard “custom” components.
  2. Establishment of metrics/KPIs

    • It’s critical to create and visualize metrics/KPIs and establish a regular cadence to review them.  It also reduces the opportunity for components of the system or mechanism to slowly erode as people just stop doing them or do so intermittently.  As a boss of mine used to say it reduces the chance of the “this is so important, I’ll never ask you about it again” type of management where important items are discussed once and then get lost in the pile of unimportant but urgent items that demand attention they don’t deserve.  It also then provides insight to component failures or the need to kaizen the system or mechanism before it becomes a real problem or impact to the business or operation.
  3. Audit

    • We need to periodically audit the system or mechanism to confirm that all the components are still in place and are to the defined standard.  Audit confirms if the team is following the standards and standardized work, any visual controls are still in place or in need of refreshing, and to check the health and effectiveness of each of the components, or the need to kaizen the system or mechanism.

“This is so important, I’ll never ask you about it again!”


Lean and Continuous Improvement

4 Necessities for Smooth Flow

Smooth flow is extremely important in order to have an efficient process.  A process that not only delivers the desired product, but does so with the best in safety, quality, productivity, and cost.

If you are an alpine skier, smooth flow is similar to that ultimate run you continuously chase after where you are effortlessly gliding down the mountainside like an eagle floating on air currents.  Or if you are not a skier, smooth flow is incredibly awesome because everything operates extremely effectively and is a dream to manage.  Like skiing, this doesn’t mean that hard work and continued effort is not required, as smooth flow doesn’t just happen!

From my experience, there are four critical components to having smooth flow.  They are:

  1. Standards 
  2. Visual Controls
  3.  5S/AO
  4. LSW/SW

Standards:  First, there needs to be critical, basic, and expectation standards developed and implemented to establish the normal conditions and specifications to which the process should be operated and maintained.  Standards can be specifications, andons, FIFO, buffers, home positions, process checks, confirmations or audits, or other clearly defined parameters that establish the normal or desired operating conditions.

Visual Controls:  Once the standards are determined, creating controls that visually indicate when the process is within the normal or expected opesmooth flowrating standard is the next step.  More importantly, effective visual controls are an andon to signal an abnormality that requires a deeper dive and corrective action.

5S/AO:  One could argue that 5S, or as sometimes referred to as Area Organization (AO), should be step 2, however, once the visual controls are established, 5S/AO becomes how the standards and visual controls are sustained.  An effective 5S/AO management system will assist leaders in keeping a good condition to maintain control but also quickly indicate abnormalities.

LSW/SW:  Leader Standardized Work (LSW) and process Standard Work are the fourth important components of smooth flow.  LSW contains the key checks, confirmations, or actions a leader needs to do on a regular basis in order to maintain the standards defined for the process.  The process Standard Work is what is used to train operators how to perform their assigned tasks and defines the step sequence and key points to ensure the highest levels of safety, quality, productivity and cost.  When followed continuously, LSW/SW maintain the standards of the process.

The image above provides a mental model of the key components in order to have smooth flow.  The circular orientation of the 4 critical components of smooth flow indicate not only how the one leads to the next, but the circular orientation symbolizes two things.  First, in order for flow to be continuous and smooth, all 4 critical components need to exist and be sustained.  Second, like a circle or tire, if any of the components are not maintained, you will have a flat tire, and smooth flow will be impacted to some degree or another.  The flow will not be smooth and like a flat tire, the process will be bumpy and cause you issues.

Hope you found this interesting or helpful.  If so, please let me know by clicking on “Like” at the bottom of this page.  In your experience, what are the important components of smooth flow?  Let me know your thoughts in the “Leave a comment” text box at the bottom of this post.

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Leader Standardized Work is for, well, EVERYONE!


Gemba, Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement

Gemba Walks – Tip #2

When doing a gemba walk, watch that your team is

Not chasing shiny objects!

Shiny objects are great for catching fish, but aren’t necessarily the best for driving continuous improvement.  Sure, it’s always great to catch the big ones, but it is also super fun catching a bunch of little guys!

When you’re doing a leadership gemba watch that your team isn’t only chasing the big improvements, like a completely new layout for example.  It’s the little improvements that add up and make a big difference to the process operator and teach people to see waste and opportunity.  Focusing on the little wastes of reaching, turning, stepping, fumbling or rework, can gain you an easy 10% improvement in productivity.  The best part is that you can truly engage the process operators and they feel the benefits immediately.

Although the big improvements can be nice and sometime necessary, if you don’t address the little things you  may not realize the full potential and not make it any easier for the process operators.  You can end up with an expensive new layout with similar wastes and frustrations as the old layout.  You end up spending a great deal of time and money, for little gain that you likely could have achieved by focusing on the small, but important.

So, when you’re doing a leadership gemba, watch that your team is paying attention to those little things in the process that add wasted time, movement, frustration, or rework and not just chasing the big shiny object.  To do so, you yourself can’t get caught up on the shiny object either.  Step back, observe the process for multiple cycles and see what you can see before setting the hook on that big guy!

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