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Gemba Walks: Are You Going To See or To Be Seen?

by Dave LaHote
August 19, 2014

Gemba Walks: Are You Going To See or To Be Seen?

by Dave LaHote
August 19, 2014 | Comments (16)

A friend of mine who is the General Manager of a division of a large manufacturing company asked me to visit one of his plants. As luck would have it, my visit happened to come one day after the Company President and several of his senior VPs visited the plant. The plant manager assumed I wanted to take a tour similar to that taken by the senior executives.

But I asked him to take me where their most important, biggest selling product was produced. Since it was a build to stock product, I said let's start in shipping and their warehouse for the finished parts. I talked with the people working in the area and asked about how well they were able to respond to their customer's demand. How did they decide how much inventory to keep? What methods did they use to adjust to changes in demand? How much variability did they have in demand and what caused it?

We walked upstream to where the parts were produced. I just watched people actually doing the work as supervisors explained the production process. I asked what their major issues were and heard about problems with capacity and changes in production schedules. What I saw was equipment that was idle and work-in-process inventories that seemed out of sync with production schedules. I heard stories of how supervisors constantly had to jump in and solve problems and adjust schedules. And, I saw little evidence of standard work or improvement activities by the people who did the work. It seemed that improvement was done by the lean team and supervisors.

The supervisors talked about the significant improvements they were making as a result of kaizen events. But all I noticed was workers trying to keep up with a production process that looked out of sync, plagued by problems that got in the way of them being able to perform their jobs well.

We walked on to observe the processes where the orders were taken, materials were purchased, and production schedules were established and released to the floor. Again I had questions about the reliability of their processes and how issues were surfaced and resolved.

Finally, we ended up at their white board information center. At the information center I noticed that their value stream maps really did not match up with the processes I had observed on my walk. I also noticed that the improvement project priority list did not match up with what I saw people actually working on. In addition, the issues I saw and heard about on my walk didn't seem to be reflected at all on the communication board.

I had asked a lot of questions and the plant manager didn't seem very happy, so I said, "How about a beer?" Over a beer, he said he was frustrated by how hard it was to answer my questions. He said they pointed out how little he actually knew about the details of their issues. He asked why the senior executive visitors the previous day had not seen the same issues or asked the same questions. He said he felt like their visit was just a waste of everyone's time. Just a big show and tell with little real discussion about the business. I said too often managers take walks in their facilities as if they were tourists. They visit pre-staged points-of-interest and make casual observations about what they see like "you have a lot of inventory" or "the plant looks good." They ask meaningless questions like "how is it going?" They review information boards to check on compliance to corporate standards rather than real problems and improvements. And finally, they encourage local management to do better on financial results.

These senior executives are going to the gemba to be seen rather than going to see and understand. They may be well intentioned, but they are following a script rather than a thought out plan. They take the walk to make an appearance, show their support and interest, reinforce the need for improvement in financial results or to deliver a pre-determined message. They spend most of their time in the conference room and at the communication boards reviewing performance. The effect is that they take a "tour" rather than a true gemba walk.

Lean thinking would have us always take a walk with a purpose. A senior manager would take a walk to better understand how well the management process is working. How effective is the daily management process? Does it focus on the few key measures and issues of the organization (like Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost)? How well is the improvement process and problem solving process working? What is the routine or "Kata" (see Toyota Kata)? How engaged are the people? Is coaching happening at the appropriate level and is it aligned to drive organizational results? Focusing on these things is what will drive sustainable results. If you only focus on financial results and compliance to corporate measures, you miss the point of a gemba walk and do little if anything to help your team.

Remember, the lean motto of Purpose, Process, People:

PURPOSE – Why are you taking the walk? What is it you are trying to deeply understand by going to the gemba?

PROCESS – How will you take the walk? What is the flow you are looking to understand? Where will you start? How long will you take?

PEOPLE – How can you look for alignment of the people to the important objectives? How will you understand if they are overburdened by too many initiatives? How will you check to see if they are working in stable conditions versus chaos? And most importantly, how will you manage the impact of your walk (as it is seldom what you expect)?

Here is a contrast between what I often see as the standard senior management plant visit versus a "lean thinking" visit:

Typical Plant Tour Visit

  • Start in fancy office conference room for sit down meeting with coffee where functional location managers make PowerPoint presentations about how well things are going - 60% of visit time
  • Go to communications board in plant where all the corporate measures are displayed and review the measures – 10% of visit time
  • Go on pre-arranged plant tour designed to reinforce the previous presentations and highlight the best areas of the facility (newest equipment, cleanest areas, nicest labs, latest kaizen) – 20% of visit time
  • Go back to fancy conference room for senior visitor feedback typically consisting of a mix of compliments on superficial things like plant cleanliness and feedback reinforcing the need to do better on the corporate measures – 10% of visit time 

Lean Thinking Gemba Walk

  • Start in a plant conference room for a stand up review of safety protocols within the plant and people introductions – 5% of visit time
  • Walk the floor – no pre-arranged tour or route (follow value streams, ask questions to understand how well the business is doing, get answers from people on the floor) – 60-70% of visit time
  • Go to communications board to see if it matches up with the observations from walking the floor (ask questions about performance measures, what are your biggest problems, how do you prioritize improvement projects) – 10-15% of visit time
  • Go to plant conference room to review strategy deployment and improvement plans (A3s) on key issues and performance gaps. Senior visitor provides feedback on specific action plans and decides a time when they will return for review – 15-20% of visit time

Are you going to see and understand or are you just making an appearance to be seen?

Interested in learning more? Join Dave LaHote for Gemba Walks: A Management Process for Leading the Organization in Minneapolis September 19th and Hollywood October 23rd.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  gemba,  leadership,  manufacturing
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16 Comments | Post a Comment
Vitezslav Pilmaier August 19, 2014
I am not sure if the "Typical Plant Tour Visit" and "Lean Thinking Gemba Walk" sample cases are correctly put together:
"Typical Plant Tour Visit"= only 20% is listed - isn´t there mising something or just the % are wrong ?
"Lean Thinking Gemba Walk" = the Stand-up Review taking 60 - 70 % seems too long - isn´t there missing the Gemba Walk itself in this point ?

Otherwise the article is very good and I also find it interesting, that when visiting a new site and having a possibility to ask the tour being done according to my experience, we do the tour absolutelly differently (ussually "backwards") then the rest of the visitors..


Reply »

Lex Schroeder August 19, 2014
Hi Vitezslav,

Those sections have now been corrected! Thank you for alerting us to the error and commenting on LaHote's piece!



Reply »

Vitezslav Pilmaier August 19, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi Lex

Great, thank you for correction - now it perfectly makes sence with the rest of the article and I must admit, that I fully agree with the descibed differences.

Reply »

Mark Graban August 19, 2014
2 People AGREE with this comment
Thanks for the article. What Dave describes as the "typical plant tour visit" is also known as the "dog and pony show." It's the type of visit that is intended to make things look good for visitors... slap a fresh coat of paint on everything.

A more meaningful visit (to a plant or a hospital even) is less staged, less scripted, less planned out.

Then, there's the challenge of leaders doing their normal routine "gemba walks" (as opposed to the occasional plant visit by outsiders). I'd like to see a Lean Post piece on daily gemba walks... with the same question... are you going to see or going to be seen? Are you shaking hands or helping solve problems


Reply »

Angelo Ceccato August 19, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
"What I saw was equipment that was idle and work-in-process inventories that seemed out of sync with production schedules. I heard stories of how supervisors constantly had to jump in and solve problems and adjust schedules. And, I saw little evidence of standard work or improvement activities by the people who did the work. It seemed that improvement was done by the lean team and supervisors."

I've read this many time it looks like the plant where i working in . the point is why people who did the work....didn't work on improvement , many time i've as technical manager ask them why they have problem and try with them to solve it , but the answer they gave me is "why i have to solve it ? nothing comes to mew if i do it " that's the reply of workers ....so i have to take decisions on my own and try to solve it by miself .


Reply »

Angelo Ceccato August 19, 2014
Sorry wasn't my intention to reply at your post, but comment at the article.

beg your pardo


Reply »

Angelo Ceccato August 19, 2014
"What I saw was equipment that was idle and work-in-process inventories that seemed out of sync with production schedules. I heard stories of how supervisors constantly had to jump in and solve problems and adjust schedules. And, I saw little evidence of standard work or improvement activities by the people who did the work. It seemed that improvement was done by the lean team and supervisors."

I've read this many time it looks like the plant where i working in . the point is why people who did the work....didn't work on improvement , many time i've as technical manager ask them why they have problem and try with them to solve it , but the answer they gave me is "why i have to solve it ? nothing comes to mew if i do it " that's the reply of workers ....so i have to take decisions on my own and try to solve it by miself .


Reply »

Dave LaHote August 19, 2014
5 People AGREE with this reply
It has been my experience that people of all levels in an organization take responsibility to solve problems in their personal life everyday.  People are natural improvers and problem solvers.  You might ask yourself what about the environment in our organization would cause people to behave differently at work than they do in their personal life?  I have a feeling if you remove these obstacles you might be surprised by how well people do

Reply »

Angelo Ceccato August 20, 2014
I tried to ask them why they behave this way , then they answer me that the reason is due to the lacking of rewards from the direction board (the company where i work is family owned) so you understand it is hard to take over obstacles, When the issue is between workers and owners.
What do you suggest ? And Thanks for reply.

regards

Angel


Reply »

Angelo Ceccato August 20, 2014
Actually i saw you profile we came from the same sector Hydraulics  OEM

Angel


Dave LaHote August 20, 2014
3 People AGREE with this reply
Thanks for the comments.  I understand it is hard.  Most things in life worth doing are hard to do.  Remember the lean principle of never accepting the answer to the first why.  You need to keep asking why to dig deeper.  Financial reward is just one thing that drives behavior.  There are many others.  Good Luck.
Dav


Dongxu Hao August 26, 2014
Dave, you mentioned the key point. People are natural improvers, but people in organization were labled as doer or expert, problem solving skill was considered as a comprehensive tools rather than we natually obtained some of them

Reply »

Dave LaHote August 27, 2014
Thank you for the comment.  I agree.  One of the challenges we face is learning to see the tools as methods to support the workers doing their jobs as opposed to something special done by experts.  Therefore, the focus is from the worker out, helping them to be successful rather than impossing extra work on them

Erik L August 19, 2014
Fantasitc article, Dave. Our team got alot from reflecting on this. We will make our MDI walks more purpose-driven rather than prescheduled routes. 

I echo the desire for you to write a similar article with the scope changed from Executive MDI walks to one of Daily Gemba Walks. Please do


Reply »

Dave LaHote August 19, 2014
Thanks for the comments and suggestion.  We'll see.
Dav


Reply »

Angelo Ceccato August 20, 2014
I am never tired to ask why , for this i behave like a child always asking himself why for everything and never satisfy with answer you get. 

hope to be part of other interesting conversation in future.

regards

Angelo Ceccat


Reply »

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By Jim Womack
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