Jul 4, 2012

Fireworks at the gemba

Seeing fireworks from a distance is like managing from your office.

Our city held its fireworks display last night, not too far from my house. I'm not attracted to huge throngs of people, and by 10:15 pm, I'm usually in bed with my book. I couldn't see them, but the explosions were rattling my windows. 

I can choose to hear and feel the fireworks from down the road, look at pictures on the local news website, or watch them on YouTube, perhaps,

But when you are at the park, lying on your blanket under the bursts of light and color, the ground shaking with the blasts, your hands over your ears, going "Ooooh" and "Wow!" it's a completely different matter. 

So is being at the gemba. You hear the machines, feel the impact when the press meets the die or the cutting tool winds the metal off the workpiece, feel the heat of forging or heat treating.Your sense of smell, perhaps below your consciousness, informs you of something overheating, fumes that should be exhausted, grease that should be cleaned, if conditions are in need of improvement. You are immersed in the experience, from feeling the floor beneath you as you walk, the activity 360 degrees around you, cranes above you, whether the illumination is adequate, too bright, or murky. 

You can answer or ask a question the moment the opportunity arises. Does the employee or manager know about the process as a whole or the operation in front of you? Is there enthusiasm and confidence, or hesitation? You see the faces of the employees: concentrating, smiling, or scowling. 

If you're miles away, you can get detailed real-time reporting on your new "dashboard" or get weekly or monthly "numbers." You can call or skype somebody, or even get a live video feed if you want.

If you're getting trained, you can read a book, go through a simulation, do some online learning, watch videos.

If you are in IT or engineering, you can talk to people, work to specifications, and test, test, test.

If you are in HR, you can collect performance evaluations, train people, and interview new hires or departing employees.

But you don't really get it if you're not THERE!

It's a choice. Be surrounded by the drama and excitement of the Fourth of July fireworks, or stay home, feel an occasional "boom," and listen to your windows rattle while you focus on something else. If it's your business, you need to be there -- at the gemba.


Unknown said...

Love the post, Karen. I think this is something that many of us (senior managers/leadership) get caught up in oh so often. I have been guilty of it more times than I would care to admit. And, of course, there are times when I get out to the floor and feel like I'm disrupting the flow of the regular activities just by being there. I also feel that I need to stay off the floor sometimes so my team doesn't think I'm always checking up on them.
Do you go to gemba on any kind of schedule, or do you have a "quota" set for yourself to get out of the office? And do you ever feel like I do? Like you're disrupting, or that you're sending the "mistrust" message?

Unknown said...

Working from home, I'm always at the gemba. Seriously, I like to take plant tours whenever I get the opportunity, but I also feel like a disruption. That's because I'm an unknown quantity added to a familiar environment. Some plants have a culture where visitors are frequent and part of the everyday experience. They may even be used to giving explanations for what they are doing, what improvements are being conducted, etc. I think it's like any other group of people, if they get used to seeing you, it's not going to be any kind of novelty. I'd agree that it's a trick to get them to trust you, and takes time. I'd like to hear from other readers how they would do that. Mostly, I'd say to ask questions for the purpose of understanding better, resist the temptation to dig in and tell people what to do, and encourage whatever you see that's on the track to your goals. You can also arrange to be on a team in a kaizen, pitch in and get your hands dirty, and even let someone else be the leader.

A quota or schedule for visiting the plant floor would be considered part of your leader standard work. I don't think it's a bad idea to schedule it if it makes you more consistent.

Thanks so much for the comment,


Buffy Luckman said...

What a great analogy for going to gemba!

In response to the aforementioned question regarding being a "disruption," I think they key is consistency and observation. When you visit the factory floor, it's important to not only praise good work when you see it but to also ask questions of the workers. Allow them to share their stories with you. Never ask a question that you know the answer to! The point is to ask questions that engages conversation - not makes the employee wonder what you're expecting to hear from them.

I find it you make this a consistent patter, eventually your visit will be viewed with excitement as opposed to a disruption.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

Buffy, thanks for reading my blog and for your comment. I think what you say about only asking questions when you do not know the answer is an excellent one. A question that sounds like a classroom quiz can come off as patronizing and superior. Plus, you came to learn something so you should genuinely know what the workers can tell you. Real conversations can build the trust you need,

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