Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect*
*These words came from Fujio Cho Chairman of Toyota. The Gemba Walking Concept was developed by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS).
Some may be familiar with the above sentence, which is one of the principles of the Lean philosophy. But where exactly do you go, ask the questions, and show respect? The answer lies at the root of the problem, the Gemba. Gemba - "The actual place". This is where work takes place and value is created for the customers. Note that work and value are not always aligned. In a factory the Gemba is in the production hall. The daily problems in the production hall truly tests the agility of our shop floor. These problems affect the budget, the dedicated time available for implementation, and also the quality and performance. Precise knowledge of the activities provides an opportunity to increase the efficiency of the processes, improve the quality and achieve the set goals.
How to get starting with Gemba Walking?Choose the area you want to investigate and determine the purpose of your visit. For example, how can one create more value with less loss? Remember that all value is the end result of some process and that processes can only produce what they are designed to produce -- never something better but often something worse. Do not miss the customer's perspective. Why do you want to introduce changes in the chosen area? Is it because you want to live up to an expectation? Or want better quality? Lower production cost? Perhaps faster response time to changes? Or maybe higher quality support after shipping the product? It is easier to start exploring details when you keep your goals in front of you.
Production data collection methodsFirst you have to understand the goal, you need to gather all the relevant data of the area. Choosing the proper data collection method is very important! Let's try to define the metrics in the light of the goals. If you do not scale the right metrics, you do not see the real results clearly either. Start at the end of the process and work back towards the beginning. The final stakeholder is the customer. Observe how customer orders are received, where the scheduling process initiated by these customer orders, and how the orders are handled.
You can examine the relationship between the area in question and the OEE. (Many manufacturing companies use the Overall Equipment Effectiveness as a key performance indicator for their production activities. It is the multiple of Availability Rate × Product Rate × Quality Rate and quantifying the three factors of OEE will help to identify the focus of development actions.)
By examining the Gemba environment we can measure how functional, loss-free and accessible the assembly activities are. We can also see how well the assembly process is equipped with raw material.
Toyota popularised several tools and quality improvement methods, but tools and techniques do not work on their own. The human factor also has to be taken into consideration. The previously mentioned „show respect” philosophy based on its understanding of people and human motivation. By observing the concrete work we can get a better understanding on how to teach workers the step-by-step processes and how to motivate them doing a better job.
Before the Gemba Walking, discuss with the participants how the process on the shop floor should run so you can more easily observe if anything in the process deviates from normal workflow.
A worksheet or checklist based on summary results is an excellent guide to structure and conduct the walk. Keep in mind that in addition to a nicely built roadmap, you will also need good practical observational skills.
Gemba walking is a great opportunity to develop critical thinking for both guided participants and the employees of the shop floor. A well-framed „humble question” helps to develop people’s critical thinking skills. Questions should not be asked to prove people wrong. A good question helps the person discover the answers themselves. Questions should focus around “What?” and "How"? not the "Why". Good example: What is the primary purpose of this work activity? How do you know if you are doing an effective job? How do you measure a successful work day? Wrong way: Are you sure, this is the best way to do your job well? Theres an opportunity after the walk to discuss the "Why" type questions too.
ParticipantsIt is easy to become so conditioned in frequent problems that you don’t even notice them. A second set of eyes, less familiar with the workflows and tasks of your team might be very valuable, especially if you take frequent Gemba walks. Identify who must participate in the Gemba Walking and the role they play. The „Gembutsu” is the target of one's focus for improvement. The „Genjitsu” means „The facts”, which shows what exactly is happening on the shop floor. Importantly, ask the process experts of critical machinery or the maintenance engineer as they can give the most insightful information. The Quality team is responsible for providing the tools, processes, and consulting expertise to support other departments in their quality and process improvement work. In many cases, the lean team has to create the most possible efficient flow in a defined process, by removing bottlenecks and non-value creating activities – and hereby achieve the most stable process.
Ready, steady GO! Go?Divide the participants into small groups. The main purpose is to have as many different points of views as possible in order to make the best decision.
The Gemba walking starts with the technical team who have bigger overview of the production shop floor (e.g. Production engineer, maintenance engineer, process expert of critical machinery). The second one is the quality team, and the final approvement comes from the lean team. The lean team is responsible for mapping and redesigning the task-flow from start to finish, if they identify waste activities in the process. Before commencing the walk, participants should be aware of the time available in the areas they visit. Make a plan of how the Gemba Walking will proceed.
Everyone needs to focus on the current location during the walk, regardless of their field of expertise. Take a break occasionally, providing an opportunity for open conversations and sharing of observations.
Before taking any actions based on Gemba walking, take some time to review all the information collected. Hold a short session after the walk to discuss the results. Talk about open issues, possible roadblocks and develop action plans as needed.