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Should we seek professional help for our sensei who talks to parts?

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Dear Gemba Coach,

My sensei has gone crazy; he’s talking to parts. Everyone is looking at him funny on the shop floor. What should I do?

This is funny! My father told me his sensei used to say, “Don’t think by heads, think by feet. Don’t see by eyes, see by hands. Don’t ask the person, ask the parts.” I used to think it was plain silly but, one day I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying. Someone had recommended the book to me as some weird take on “5S.”

At first, the book made me laugh – handling clothes to see if they spark joy? Thanking them before throwing them away? Seriously? But then it made me think. Maybe… maybe I was the one missing something. Which is when my father’s sensei’s advice came back to mind and I thought what the heck and tried it. I talked to parts.

And everyone looked at me funny.

But, oh boy, did the parts have things to say.Your sensei has not gone crazy, or senile. He or she is trying to open up your mind to teach you how to see

A Parley with Parts

I’m often struck by how Japanese is such a language of energy. Japanese speakers talk about the vigor of the company, the vitality of teams, the energy of persons. I know of one sensei who exorcizes muda after successful kaizens. At first, I dismissed all of this as cultural. After all, Japanese mindsets are rooted in Shinto, where kami, spirits, are hidden in objects, landscapes, forces of nature, and the manifestations of the interconnecting energy of the universe and all that jazz.

But then I talked to parts. And I continue to do so.

To make this activity fit in my Cartesian western mind, I switched “intention” for “energy.” When I talk to a part in a box I can discern better:

  • The intention of the person who will one day use it;
  • The intention of the person who put it there and left it;
  • The intention of the person who purchased it;
  • The intention of the person who designed it;
  • The intention of the person who made it.

It’s fascinating. The one thing parts tell me is that they were made to be used, and to be used right away. They don’t like waiting in crates, in pallets, or in racks. They get old and cranky and feel obsolete and unloved.

Parts also tell me of the callous indifference of people who handle them (this is just a job) and of all the things managers invent to stop them from doing what they were made for -- fit in a groovy mechanism that will put a smile on a customer’s face.

And of course, some parts tell me of having birth defects, being poorly conceived, enduring accidents as they grew up in the manufacturing process, and suffering the indignities of being carried around with no good reason and never told why, where, and when.

Listen! Don’t Just Talk

One of the greatest difficulties of going to the Gemba is learning to see: not what is there but seeing what is not there; what should be there. We are so absorbed by the reality of the situation and everyone explaining that everything is normal that it’s hard to extract oneself mentally, breathe deeply, look around, and really see:

  • How is this flawed?
  • Why hasn’t this moved to the next step?
  • What instructions did we give this process so that it didn’t work?
  • How could we visualize all of this so people can grasp it intuitively?

Your sensei has not gone crazy, or senile. He or she is trying to open up your mind to teach you how to see. And yes, people are probably looking at this shaking their heads – but this is the worrying part. It’s the expression of their indifference, their lack of willingness to try harder to succeed. This is your fundamental problem.

Talking to parts means stepping into the room of intentions. This is the first step to leading others to will to do a better job and spur the kaizen spirit. It is also the key to looking for real improvements, not process-y nonsense – real kaizen: increasing the fighting spirit through smart actions, reflecting, and moving on to the next step. Talk to your parts! Listen to what they have to tell you.

2 Comments | Post a Comment
Alexander Gray February 11, 2019

I'd have to agree with this. While legitimately talking to parts is a little insane, this is a great mindset to have. If you examine what each part is actually supposed to do, you can then see if they are being used for alternative intentions they might not be as efficient at doing. If this is the case, it'd probably be better to invest in a part that is more efficient at said purpose(s). In addition, looking at what is not there, rather than what is, will move you closer to always finding ways to improve upon things, no matter what it is.

Ken Eakin February 28, 2019

Brilliant! And I totally agree with the bit about learning to see what is not there. I work in an office...maybe I will start talking to information!

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