Home > The Lean Post> Ask Art: What is the Walk of Shame, and Why Is It Effective?
The Lean Post
Sharing how the world is making things better through lean.

Ask Art: What is the Walk of Shame, and Why Is It Effective?

by Art Byrne
February 17, 2021

Ask Art: What is the Walk of Shame, and Why Is It Effective?

by Art Byrne
February 17, 2021 | Comments (4)

I love the walk of shame. Publicly calling out waste can be fun and effective in helping people see what is right before their eyes, but which they have never been able to see before. If you want to change things for the better, (which after all is the definition of kaizen), you must first understand the current condition so identify precisely what you are trying to change.

The point is not to embarrass anyone but to help them see. Try and do it with a light touch and make it fun. Many times I have led a group into an in-plant warehouse and before going in I put my finger to my lips and say “Shhhh, be very quiet, we don’t want to wake up all the sleeping money that is laying around in here disguised as inventory.” Most people laugh at this until they understand that I am very serious and then they get the point.

I relate the idea for the walk of shame to the Toyota Way principle of genchi genbutsu, which means go see for yourself to thoroughly understand any situation. Jeffrey Liker’s The Toyota Way 2nd Edition does a great job of explaining this in great detail. As he points out, the Toyota Way requires employees and managers to have “a deep understanding of the processes of flows, standardized work etc.”

Publicly calling out waste can be fun and effective in helping people see what is right before their eyes, but which they have never been able to see before. Liker explains this by sharing the famous “Ohno circle” that Taiichi Ohno used to teach his students about the Toyota Production System. Teryuki Minoura, who was a direct student of Ohno's, learned this by being told to stand in the circle on the shop floor and “watch the processes and think for yourself.” Ohno kept him there for eight hours. He came by to ask what Minoura was seeing. Minoura told him “there were so many problems with the process.” Ohno didn’t seem to be listening. At the end of the eight hours Ohno came by and just said “go home.” No discussion, no feedback, no direction given by Ohno. Just “go home.” Minoura was expected to learn himself by actually seeing what was going on.

Help People See What They Can't See

Consider another example. Say you run a machine-intensive factory where similar machines are grouped in functional departments. Each machine has an operator, who feeds parts to the machine and then stands and watches while the machine does the processing. This is the most common layout for traditional batch companies. Now, to get to your office from the parking lot you have to walk through the plant each day. What you observe probably appears normal and in good order. But when you get home at night you see your spouse put a load of laundry in the washing machine, turn it on then pull up a chair and watch it go round and round until it is done. This is the same condition you see everyday at work, but in this setting it doesn’t seem so normal. In fact it seems ridiculous.

The walk of shame belongs to the category of helping people to see what they can’t see, even though it is right in front of them. My first exposure to this was when I was a Group Executive for The Danaher Corporation. We had started an aggressive conversion to the Toyota Production System (the term “lean” was still 10 years away) at two of the companies in my Group, Jake Brake and Jacobs Chuck. As we started spreading it to the other 11 Danaher companies at the time, one of my Group companies, Veeder Root, was very resistant. They had high market shares in most of their product lines and were the most profitable company in the Danaher portfolio. I managed to get (ordered is probably closer to the truth) the senior management team to participate in a week-long kaizen at their biggest plant, which happened to be in North Carolina.

One afternoon our sensei, Mr. Nakao, who was one of the founders of the Shingijutsu consulting firm and formerly had worked for Taiichi Ohno at Toyota, gathered up the whole senior management team and said, “Ok, time for the walk of shame.” He then proceeded to walk the group through the plant, stopping at many places to point out all the waste and let them absorb it. I remember we spent a lot of time in both the raw materials and finished goods warehouses. Nakao pointed out all the dust on the boxes and how old many of the dates on the boxes were. Some things had been there for years. It was hard for them to make excuses when they were staring at the evidence of how much waste they really had. For me, this single walk of shame did more to convince the Veeder Root team to get on board with lean than all the pushing and begging I had done before. Once they got started they were great and made very rapid progress. Their already high margins went up even higher.

Ask Serious Questions About the Work

Another great example occurred when I was in the private equity business. I was an Operating Partner at J W Childs Associates and Chairman of a company called Esselte which made traditional filling products. We were doing our first kaizen at their biggest plant in Union, MO. They thought this plant was the best one in the company. I thought it was awful. So on the second afternoon of the kaizen we decided to take all the kaizen teams, about 40-50 people, on a walk of shame. Mr. Kurosaka of Shingijutsu was our sensei that week, and I asked him to conduct the walk.

We barely got started when he stopped the group in front of a big pile of work-in-process inventory. He looked at the plant manager and said, “Bob, give me $20.” Bob was surprised at this and resisted at first. Kurosaka persisted, “Give me $20.” Bob handed him the money and Kurosaka stuck it on the pile of WIP. “Look, he said, you are wasting the company’s money with all this inventory; you might as well waste some of your own.” With that he turned and led the group to the next pile of waste. I’m not sure Bob ever got his money back but he repeated the story for years afterward, bragging about how much he learned from that one incident and how it helped him moving forward.

You don’t always have to be that dramatic to be effective. I remember conducting a similar “walk” at another plant, again with about 40 people from that week’s kaizen teams, plus the local plantIn order to become lean, everyone must have a deep understanding of the flow, the standardized work, the pull system, and the current state so that there is a basis on which to improve. management. This plant had big piles of WIP everywhere. I would stop the group where we had a clear look down an aisle in the plant and ask, “Does this look like a factory or a warehouse?” A big roar would come back, “warehouse.” On to the next stop, “factory or warehouse?” Another roar, “warehouse.” And the same at every stop. The plant manager was a bit embarrassed but he was a good guy, understood the lesson, and made very good progress in making it back into a factory.

Whether you use the Ohno circle approach, the walk of shame, or some other method the key is that in order to become lean, everyone must have a deep understanding of the flow, the standardized work, the pull system, and the current state so that there is a basis on which to improve. Draw an Ohno circle and stand in it yourself. What do you see? How many people are doing value added work? Is there excess inventory? Do people have to move too far to complete the work? Are there visual controls in place? What about 5S? Are people standing around waiting for the automated machine to complete its work and spit out a part? Is this like the washing machine at home?

Take your team on a walk of shame. Have some fun with it but ask serious questions about what you are seeing at every stop. If you do it correctly it can really change people's opinions and jump start you down the lean path. Keep walking! 

P.S. Please join us for a webinar with Art on What We Can Still Learn From Danaher and Wiremold, taking place on March 18 at 2:00 PM Eastern Time. Art will explore lessons from his leadership at Danaher, The Wiremold Company (now owned by Legrand,) and many other lean turnarounds. During this event, you’ll have ample opportunity to ask questions or share comments you have regarding your lean journey with Art. Sign up to join the event here.

Was this post... Click all that apply
15 people say YES
19 people say YES
18 people say YES
12 people say YES
Related Posts
4 Comments | Post a Comment
V Ramesh February 19, 2021

A very useful exercise to identify the abnormalities in the gemba. 

What is important is clear understanding of what is normal and what is abnormal.

Many a time the existence of abnormality for a long time makes the people blind to identify them



Reply »

art byrne February 19, 2021

V Ramesh, thanks for your comments. You are absolutly correct that seeing the same thing over and over for many years can make it seem normal when it really is not. Taking a walk and helping people to see the abnormal is very important in making a lean turnaround. Stop and look. Ask yourself how much of what you see is value adding vs. how much is non value adding? For example, in a 28 step process it is not uncommon to find that only 5 or 6 steps are actually value adding. 

Reply »

Rob February 19, 2021

Completely understand the message about going to the Gemba but it’s been my experience that shame or public exposure to failure (how workers can preceive the waste identification) produces individual retreat while shared purpose motivates forward action. Would challenge that this requires a rock solid top level management drive with LEAN experts to achieve rapid change. In the absence of this structure believe a goal oriented approach which engages the teams daily through experimentation at the Gemba is more ideal.

Reply »

art byrne February 21, 2021

Rob, thanks for your comments. Helping a team of people understand the opportunities they have for improvement is not the same as you say a "public exposure to failure." The respect for people principle is not suspended. No one should be criticized or made to feel bad. In fact, the walk of shame done correctly is normally a fun learning experience. In fact it is part of what you call "a rock solid top level management drive with lean experts to acheive rapid change." Don't forget that in the examples I gave either I, as CEO, Group Executive or Chairman, or one of our ex Toyota Japanese consultants were conducting the walk. People understood that we were just trying to help them see and understand the waste that they could not see before. It was all part of an agressive kaizen approach where were showing them how to see and remove the waste. Our teams were motivated to improve not in what you call "individual retreat." Kaizen is hard work, have some fun along the way.

Reply »

Go and See: Where The Magic Is
Why Bother Making It Visual?
Please include links as plain text URLs only. Do not copy and paste directly from a web page or other document. Doing so may pick up additional HTML that will not function here.
URLs will be converted to functioning links when your comment is displayed on the site.
Here's an example:
See this article for more details: https://www.lean.org/whatslean