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?
STOP!!! TIME OUT!
This 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.