March 30, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, lean manufacturing, LIT, optimization, productivity
Like every other high-production manufacturing segment, ball and roller bearing manufacturers have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Some industry leaders like Timken have gone through total lean transformations, while others have opted to incorporate some simple lean tools or basic principles into their operation.
One lean manufacturing tool that continues to gain popularity among operations managers is “going to the Gemba” or taking a “Gemba walk.” This practical lean tool gives management a clear view of what is happening on the plant floor and, more importantly, reveals areas for possible improvement.
As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, “Gemba” is the Japanese term for “actual place,” but has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In a manufacturing environment, this is typically the shop floor. Many lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make time to visit this place—known as taking a “Gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.
“Managers are not supposed to use this walk as a time to find fault or enforce policy, nor as a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot,” the eBook states. “Instead, a Gemba walk should be a time of observation and learning. Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees.”
Why is a Gemba walk so important? A recent article from The Leadership Network provides three reasons why a regular Gemba walk is beneficial:
- First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. A regular Gemba walk will give managers transparent and unmediated knowledge that is needed to challenge and validate assumptions made by data.
- Perspective is gained through experience. A regular Gemba walk allows managers to understand the challenges employees need to overcome on a daily basis to deliver the results that are being promised in the boardroom.
- Both people and process matter equally. A regular Gemba walk will help develop a culture that fixes the problems in a process and not one that blames the people performing the process.
In theory, a Gemba walk sounds fairly simple. Walking around and talking to operators seems pretty straightforward. However, there are a few tips managers should keep in mind before heading to the shop floor. IndustryWeek offers managers five suggestions to consider as they prepare for their Gemba walk:
- Have a theme or topic in mind. Walking with a theme and having discussions with people in Gemba related to something they have recently heard or been impacted by sends a powerful message: The organization cares enough to spend time learning from, and spending time with, people in Gemba.
- Have a planned route. In larger facilities it’s wise to keep track of where you’ve been so as not to spend too much time away from one area. Sometimes the theme will dictate your route, and in smaller work places it’s fine to simply walk, watch and listen.
- Be on the lookout for waste and seek input from people. They most likely know far more about what’s going on than you’ll ever know from looking at charts and sitting in meetings.
- Ask open-ended questions. Try to avoid asking questions that people would answer with a simple yes or no.
- Take notes. Write down what you see and hear, and note whom you talk to. Most leaders at some point facilitate or at least participate in all-hands meetings or other settings where large groups are pulled together.