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Gathering Insights Through Gemba Walks

The “Gemba” is the most important work place for any team. This is Japanese for “where the real work gets done”. Our Gemba involves our sheet metal fabrication, powder coating, and assembly processes.

A Gemba walk may involve an in depth observational analysis of a work procedure. It is vital not to rely on purely numerical based data to make your manufacturing process decisions. Hours can be wasted on calculations, theories and spreadsheets whereas the observations one can gather in 15 minutes are invaluably brimming with discerning info. Put yourself in the place of the workers to experience their problems first hand for a better perspective on problems operators face.

A plan of attack for the walk is discussed and outlined prior to its execution which provides a smooth flow of operations in the observational environment. Avoid Management While Walking Around which is a separate technique that only scratches the surface of the problem. Only after a period of reflection can each issue properly be addressed in hopes to eliminate the target issue.

The observer must dive deep into the complex issues addressed by your staff and make sure to scrutinize the process rather than operators’ actions searching for holes where improvements can be made to eliminate waste within the operation.

GETTING STARTED

There is no such thing as a right answer during a Gemba questioning session. You must disregard any archetype of a how the operation should be done and instead resort to the basic single task evaluation where the important questions such as:

What is the task?
Who is responsible for the task?
Where is it taking place?
Why is it being done?

In order for this process to be most beneficial it is critical that the employees are comfortable enough to reveal the systems flaws rather than cover them up.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

It is important to have a conversation with the workers and uncover their important insights on improving the processes design. This aids in the engagement of a give and take relationship demonstrating to your fellow employees that you are there to improve the systems they work within while providing a fresh perspective. In order to properly document the continuous observations made during the evaluation those involved will need a few recording devices. Pen and paper work well to record layouts and the flow of products and people, electronic options may offer a more versatile recording platform for observations, a voice recorder can be used to log the narrative of the walk and a camera is always good for visual retention of information.

 An open mind washed free of any preconceived notions may be the most valuable tool when conducting the evaluation.

A kaizen board can be used after to organize your observational process data in a more digestible format while a Kanban board can be used to help visualize your workflow.

A diverse team will help to expose problems a team familiar with the protocol may sweep over or become desensitized to with repetitive exposure. An employee from a differing department, vendor or customer may ask an entirely different set of questions and find intrinsic value in your processes that they were previously unaware of.

Scheduling walks at different times of the production cycle as the previous Gemba walk ensures that a sense of routine is not instilled into the practice. This allows for more of a “complete picture” of the production cycle.

Communication with the employees whose work related processes were evaluated is an important follow up step after the walk has been conducted. The insights gathered and subsequent actions must be communicated to the observed employees to further instilling a sense of commitment to incremental improvements.

Lean is not about enforcing a process. It targets the framework of how a process is carried out and intends to restructure it for greater efficiency. The challenge of ANY Lean implementation is flexibility within the organization and making room for adaptation. It is common for change to be met with resistance so that should be expected. As with most innovations we never realized how dull the past was until we’ve seen how bright the future can be.

Read more about MPE’s Lean business practices in our recent article, Streamlining Production with Lean Cells.

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