Can gemba walks be self-taught?
I think so. What it takes basically to go-and-see is a lean thinking, striving-continuously-to-improve mindset.
Yet rookie gemba walkers may not know what to look for or what to pay attention to when walking alone.
When initiation is done with a sensei, the latter may ask questions to his disciple in order to make him/her self discover something and learn to see by him/herself.
But when no sensei is available, how to do?
If the gemba walker is familiar with Value Stream Mapping, he can visit a process and try mentally draw a map, he/she can even sketch it. While drawing the map, he/she can ask him/herself questions e. g. Why this buffer stock? Why that much scrap? And search for the answers.
Another way to get familiar with gemba walks is to start simply with a limited and focused objective, as for example finding out where material stops flowing smoothly or checking the average hand-offs in production.
Doing this a topic a time helps keeping focused and hones the seeing ability.
I suggest the gemba walkers prepare a list of topics and pick up a new one for each tour. Bedsides a topic list, it would be of some help to prepare a checklist per topic.
- Where are the buffer stocks located, in front of what kind of resources?
- Is its purpose to absorb faster upstream resource output or to protect the downstream resource from shortage?
- What if the buffer is empty?
- Conversely what happens if buffer overflows?
- What is the average value of buffer stock?
- How long does it last given consumption pace?
- Is there any signal to show buffer status?
In my book Lean Management, I propose several check-lists for managers going out on gemba walks
Many of these questions will find their answers – good or bad – when asking people in charge.
It is highly recommended to ask systematically for at last two reasons:
- prevent jumping on preconceptions but systematically checking for alternative causes
- assess people in charge understanding and analysis of the situation.
Sometimes what seems an obvious cause to something is not the real cause, what we think we understand is totally different. Relying on one’s own beliefs can lead to misunderstandings and false conclusions.
Asking without inferring the answer is a way to check if alternatives answers exist, giving a chance to truly understand the nature of a problem, its cause or origin. And paying respect to people!
Understand people’s point of view
It is very different when somebody does something just because he/she was told to or when somebody just sticks to defined standards although knowing a better way to do it.
The first case depicts passive execution of non-engaged people who don’t care if instructions given are stupid or not.
The second depicts people aware of improvement potentials but do not know to express their suggestions or don’t dare to. Yet they stick to the rules, procedures and instruction as they understand these are the standards.
These kind of people are subject matter experts, as they not only have experience in performing the task but analyzed it and sought improvements.
It happens often that people “suffer in silence” or have good improvement ideas but don’t know how and to whom propose them. Asking questions during a gemba walk is an opportunity to surface not only hidden causes of problems, but also potential solutions and improvement.
Besides, paying attention to people and seeking their advice is paying respect to them.
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