How lean are you? Part 6 – Gemba walk as lean assessment

Measuring leanness is not always necessary, for instance when gathering qualitative clues is good enough for the purpose of the assessment. This would be the case for qualifying a supplier or find improvement topics.

Part 1 to part 4 of this series describe quantitative leanness assessment

Gemba walk as qualifying audit

When it comes to select and qualify a supplier in a list of candidates, before awarding him/her a contract over several years and develop a real partnership, it is wise to pay a visit to the facilities and assess the candidate’s performance and abilities.

Many such qualifying processes start with a standard questionnaire designed to gather some basic information. Many of these inquiries include questions about improvement programs, past lean initiatives and planned projects.

Some KPIs are also required in order to get an idea about the actual performance level and remaining improvement potential, which is a hint about actual risks for the customer as well as hint for future discounts as “shared improvement benefits”.

Yet figures can be misleading if it is not possible to differentiate effectiveness from efficiency or simply because all candidates want to appear at their best and dress their window accordingly.

In order to cross-check provided information, a gemba walk is a good tool. Such a walk would first check if the customer’s representative can walk the supplier’s talk or said simply: does the reality match the alleged situation, is the supplier trustworthy?

It doesn’t take lot of data to do this. Lean and non-lean situation are often highly contrasted, so evidences in both cases are easy to find.

As the outcome is a binary answer about confidence in the actual performance and potentials of the supplier, a lean expert word after a gemba walk is enough.

Examples

If supplier claims to pay keenest attention to quality but the shop floor is messy, dirty, with material and parts staked everywhere, the quality of delivered goods may be the result of thorough checking and filtering and come at high cost and not as a result of efficient and standard processes.

This exposes the customer to some risk regarding product’s quality, delivery – in quantity and time – as well as supplier’s potential bankruptcy in severe cases (his margin annihilated by excessive costs).

If changeover time is long and obviously SMED approach and techniques not known or mastered, flexibility can’t be good.

In case of shared resources with limited sprint capacity, it is likely that customers’ priority changes – something all B2B customers allow themselves – will disrupt the planning and lead to chaotic handling.

The deliveries would be at jeopardy and it is common that the customer shouting loudest will be given highest priority.

This means a lot of efforts for a given customer to secure his supplies. A kind of risk no auditor takes lightly.

Yet on a questionnaire alone, this kind of problem can seldom be foreseen.

Touring the shop floor reveals a lot about the company’s culture:

  • Do people look anxious and in haste or do they work smoothly and efficiently?
  • Do they wear required protections? Do they work in a well-tended, clean and well-lit environment?
  • Do they pay attention to material, parts, tools and equipment?
  • Is garbage visible somewhere?

Many of these kind of questions address discipline, morale, management and employee’s engagement.

These soft facts may influence the company’s performance and can only be sensed in situ.

Conclusion

Assessing leanness most often does not require complex measurement and ranking tools, a gemba walk by an expert is enough to give a grading and make a decision in an audit.

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