May 5, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, Safety, workflow process
Most manufacturing executives know that developing a lean culture requires top-down support. Everyone—from the CEO and vice president of operations to the maintenance manager and band saw operator—needs to be on board, or it’s just not going to work.
Unfortunately, many companies have discovered that creating a successful lean environment isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, as this blog post explains, there are a lot of ways to do this incorrectly. For instance, leadership is not “committed” simply because they have enthusiastically funded a lean program. They need to actually be involved. At the same time, key improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower.
Change—effective change—needs to start at the ground level, where the work is happening and where the value is created. This place, defined as “gemba” in lean manufacturing terms, is believed to be the key to unlocking true transformation.
“Gemba,” the Japanese term for “actual place,” has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In an IndustryWeek blog post, Bill Wilder, director of The Life Cycle Institute, calls gemba the “beating heart” of an organization, which for manufacturers, is rarely found in the marketing department or an executive desk. Instead, it is almost always found on the production floor.
This means that to make any real change, metal service center executives need to literally take a walk—known as the “gemba walk”—to see their operation from the front lines. Getting out of the office and taking a gemba walk, Wilder says, is the best way for leadership to see, firsthand, what works and doesn’t, and many experts believe it should be the first step in any lean transformation.
In theory, this sounds great, but what should a gemba walk look like in practice? Here are a few tips we gathered to help you “walk the talk” and put you on the path toward an effective top-down lean program:
- Have a plan. This SlideShare presentation, “Gemba 101,” states that there are four steps to gemba success: know your purpose, know your gemba, observe your framework, and validate. You can read the slides to get more information, but the takeaway here is that a gemba walk should be structured. It is not the same as Management By Wandering Around (MBWA), which is often casual and unstructured. In contrast, a gemba walk has a specific purpose. Lean expert James Womack says he has 10 questions he asks every time he takes a gemba walk. You can check out those questions here in this essay, along with a great case study.
- Think—and walk—horizontally. According to Womack, value flows horizontally. Unfortunately, organizations are organized vertically. As described in this IndustryWeek article, the key to a successful gemba walk is to select a value stream, gather all the managers from all the vertical functions that touch the value stream, and then walk together. This likely includes CEOs and COOs, customers, suppliers, and value-stream leaders.
- Respect and Engage. As this iSixSigma article states, a gemba walk is not an opportunity to find fault or enforce policy, nor is it a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot. Instead, it should be “a time of observation, input and reflection.” Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees. A good example of this more team-centric approach is described in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers. As the paper states, one service center continuously asks operators for ideas to make its cutting processes safer and faster and, when appropriate, brings those ideas to fruition. This tactic has not only improved operational efficiency, it has also shown operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success.