Thursday, February 23, 2012

Going to Gemba with a Purpose

By Al Norval

By now most leaders understand the purpose of “Going to Gemba”. A great deal has been written about the famous words of Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho that have become a Lean mantra now:
  1. Go See
  2. Ask Why
  3. Show Respect

Each of these three phrases has deep meaning.

Go See – one of the basic Lean Mental models. See for yourself, Grasp the Situation, seek to understand what is actually happening, look at things from both a technical and people point of view. The 4 M’s is a good framework for this. Consider the Manpower, the Machines, the Materials and the Methods as you observe the situation.

Ask Why – another one of the basic Lean Mental models. It revolves around Leader as a Teacher. Rather than tell people what to do, leaders ask questions to probe. This develops people’s thinking and develops their ability to problem solve for themselves in the future. Although this approach may take longer to resolve an issue in the short term, it pays big dividends in the long term as people’s capability to solve their own problems develops over time.

Show Respect - Key to the entire process and fundamental to Lean. It’s founded on one of the basic principles of Lean which is “Respect for Humanity”. Anytime, leaders go to Gemba and ask why, it needs to be done in a way that builds the capability of the team and empowers them to try things to learn for themselves. This is showing respect for their mental capabilities and their humanity and goes beyond just showing respect for them in the way we talk to each other in an interpersonal relationship.

Now we have a system of Going to Gemba but as with any system, this system needs a purpose. What’s the purpose of Going to Gemba? Obviously to understand the current condition, to develop the capability of team members and to kaizen the process. But do we just go to Gemba hoping to find problems and waste? I’d suggest a better way would be to define a specific process or capability you want to check and predetermine questions you want to ask about it. Start by identifying the critical processes in an area and develop a calendar on when you’ll go to Gemba with the purpose of checking that process. Over time many different processes can be checked and many different capabilities developed, all with a specific purpose.

If we don’t do these things we revert back to Management by Walking Around which I like to call Management by Milling Around. We feel good about it but it really doesn’t get us anywhere.


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