Gemba, Lean and Continuous Improvement

Gemba by any other name is… go & see! Gemba is NOT just for manufacturing processes!

Many associate gemba as a manufacturing activity, but in reality it is an invaluable tool that any leader can use regardless of the industry, business, process, or function. Gemba means nothing more than going to the workplace to see. The workplace can then include anything where work is performed such as a construction site, ER room, automotive repair garage, control room, accounting office, school room, maintenance job, or food buffet line.

The purpose of gemba is to go and see the process, engage with the employees (team members, operators, associates, cast, staff, techs, etc) that are doing the work. It is to engage with them by showing an interest in what they do, how they do it and to assist them in being successful at it.   Our teams come to work and want to do a good job and it is a leader’s job to help remove the barriers that get in the way of our teams doing the best job they can. Over time, waste and inefficiencies seem to creep in or inadvertently get added that can cause safety, quality, productivity, or cost issues. By going and seeing, a leader is more likely to find these wastes and inefficiencies and can take action to correct them. Point and case; safety, quality, productivity, and cost applies to pretty much any business or process, so why wouldn’t go & see or gemba apply?

The principles are the same when doing a gemba in a non-manufacturing environment as they are in a manufacturing environment. It starts by going to the workplace and engaging with the workers there. Explain to them why you are there, that you are interested in what they do and want to learn about it. Watch what they do and ask questions to understand why they do what they do. Ask them what they think can be done to improve the process. Ask them about things you observe that capture your interest. No doubt, between you, you will identify several things that need to be improved. It is very important in gaining their trust and respect, to then prioritize a manageable amount of items to go after. Discuss these with the employee or team and set a reasonable timeline and approach to taking action.

Most jobs or positions have some level of standardized work or standards to which the process is to be done. This is typically how someone gets trained in the first place. For example, a maintenance technician typically has a detailed preventative maintenance (PM) routine or a standard operating procedure (SOP), while a control room will have defined standards of alarm limits or frequency of checks/recordings that have to be made. Regardless of the job, there will be defined tasks that have to be done, documentation to be followed, training material, or standards to be followed. These are key documents to request, check, and audit how they are being followed. This also leads to key insights as to the cause of safety, quality, productivity, or cost issues if they are not being followed. Even more so if they don’t exist. If they don’t exist, how are people being trained? How do you know it is being done the best way to get the best results?  This then should be your starting point to standardize the task, document it, and get all those doing the function to follow it.  Only then, once it is standardized and everyone is following the standard can you make improvements.

Gemba is an extremely powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox regardless of what you do. Don’t miss out on this just because you think this is a manufacturing tool!

Here’s some other gemba posts you may find of interest:

10 Important Steps of Effective Gemba Walks or “Go See”

Gemba Walks – Tip #1

Gemba Walks – Tip #2

A Leader’s Best Question

3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba

 

Gemba, Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement, The Leader

3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba

A very common question I’ve been asked over the years is,

I don’t get out to the floor anymore, what can I do?

Most people understand the importance of gemba and going to the floor to see and understand what is happening.  However, many leaders as they continue to move up the corporate ladder or take on more responsibilities, struggle finding the time to do gemba.  They give priority to everything else and essentially hope they have time to go to the floor.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  If left to chance, it won’t happen.

Well, the solution isn’t glamorous or earth shattering at all, but with a little discipline and planning, there is hope.

 

1. Schedule time for gemba.  It starts by literally placing time in your calendar by scheduling an event or meeting weeks in advance.  In fact, make it a never ending recurring meeting.  Schedule them several times a week so that should you have a priority conflict, you still have time in your calendar that week to do gemba.  As an example, if you want to have time for a 1 hour gemba twice a week, I recommend scheduling a 1 hour “Gemba Walk” event three to four times a week for the entire year or longer.  When slotting these Gemba Walks, select times that increase the odds of them actually occurring.  Don’t swim upstream fighting the workplace currents.  In other words, step back and think of your typical week.  There are generally days and times that will be easier to do gemba than others.  Select those time slots and not the days/times when you know there is likely to be a high risk of other conflicts, priorities, or conflicting business conditions.

2. Make gemba part of your weekly personal planning.  As you do your personal planning for the coming week, ensure that you review your calendar paying particular attention as to when you have your gemba’s scheduled.  Check for conflicts and adjust as necessary.  This provides you the opportunity to decline meetings if gemba is a priority over them, or to reschedule your gemba to ensure it happens rather than accepting meetings regardless then wondering why you have no time to do gemba.  If you proactively scheduled more gemba time slots than you need you can make a decision to cancel some or leave them just in case a last minute issue arises during the week.

3. Add “Gemba Walk” to your Leader Standard Work.  Add the number and frequency of Gemba Walks to your Leader Standard Work (LSW) as this can be an added reminder for you to complete it, but more so to provide you with a record of how you are doing.  If you are completing this aspect of your LSW, great no action required.  However, if you look back at your LSW and see that you are frequently missing it, or perhaps always missing it on a specific day/time, then you can think about why and what you need to do differently going forward to increase your ability to attend your gemba.

The above 3 steps have been my approach which has worked well for me.  I find step 3 is important over the longer term because the business and priorities do change over time.  It’s too easy to get caught up in the day to day urgent things that have to get done and before you know it, weeks have gone by and you aren’t getting to the floor as much as you should.  Weekly review of your LSW and looking back over the longer term will highlight to you that you need to take some action to course correct.

If you are already successful at doing regular Gemba, please share your approach in the comments for others to learn from.

 

Gemba, Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement, The Leader

Results are in: A Leader’s Best Question

Did you take on the Leadership question challenge last week?

If not, you can find out about it HERE!  It’s not too late to learn about it and try it!

If you did take on the challenge, this is where inter-activeness comes in.  If you found the question useful and/or will add this to your list of leadership questions going forward, click on “Like”.

For those of you that are willing to invest a little more time, leave a comment and let us know how it worked for you or what surprised you the most about it.  Alternatively, what is your favourite Leadership question to ask?  A comment only takes a minute and others will learn from your experience, or if they haven’t tried the question yet, they may give it a try as well!

Although I’ve used this question for a long time, what I enjoyed this week when I took on the challenge, actually was not the response or reaction I got from the people I asked, but rather later on during a gemba when I didn’t ask someone the question, one of the leaders on my team did.  Awesome!  That’s what it’s all about.  Imagine if all our leaders frequently ask this question and then act on the response?

If you like this question, be sure to add it to your Leader Standardized Work, make it a regular question when on a gemba walk, or during your next 1:1.

Gemba, Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement, The Leader

A Leader’s Best Question

Try something different this week.  What if we can collectively make a profound difference in our workplaces and teams this week by asking and taking action on what might just be a leader’s best question:

What frustrates you?

I love asking this question.  Well actually, I love the result of asking it.  It is astounding what you will learn from your operators, support teams, or leaders of leaders.  This is not a lean or CI thing, this is a great leadership question for any leader.  Ask it of anyone on your team whether they be hourly or salary,  work on line or in the office.  The response will provide you with some great discussion for sure, and likely actions to help them be a happier and more effective person within your organization.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Here’s the deal.  If you are willing to give it a try this week click on “Like” so we will have an idea of the impact we’ll have across many companies and industries.  Ask at least 3 different people on your teams.  Leave a comment on the post after you have asked a few people “What frustrates you?” and let us know your thoughts on the value of asking this question.

If you want to challenge others to do the same, please share this post.

Let’s do this!

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?

STOP!!!  TIME OUT!

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.