Saturday, November 25, 2006

"To me" or "with me"?

“To me” or “with me”?

We talk in Lean circles quite a bit about “going to gemba”, the workplace. Jeff Liker calls it “go and see for yourself.” And, on a very practical basis, it means physically moving to the place where associates do the work.

Why is this seemingly simple thing so effective? I’ve said for years, both to myself and to others, “Something good always happens when I walk through the workplace.” But it has nothing to do with me; I’m no vibrant, charismatic person, much more the opposite. But why?

Does “going to Gemba” work in a Lean system because it allows a manager and associates to make improvements “with” each other and not “at” each other?

A memo or email feels “from on high” to the associates who have to implement it. A conversation in the workplace, however, feels much more empathetic, doesn’t it?


jeff angus said...


Moreover, I think you underestimate yourself when you say it has nothing to do w/you. Sure, you get from the people, but you put your perceptions to work whether you want to or not. You pick up data that you may apply later.

The Outsider sees/hears/smells things that people inside the system can't and people who never go to gemba can't see/hear/smell. You can't do anthropology from an armchair, and I can't believe anyone is so talented at process tuning that they can do it from a dozen+ miles away and never go to the subject.

"We don't know who discovered water, but we can be confident it wasn't a fish".

If you can find an old book "They Became What They Beheld" by Edmund Snow Carpenter, there's a section "The Islander" that explains how outsiders-who-come-in are in the most powerful position to innovate. See if you can find it in a library -- I think it gives an ethnologic underpinning for the effect you observed.

And it's great for us you're posting again...THANKS

Jon Miller said...

Taiichi Ohno said that for a kaizen leader it should take you hours to walk from end to end of a plant because so many people come to you with kaizen ideas or asking for help with making improvements. You need to have a credible history of helping people on the gemba. You need to be approachable. You need to be a good listener. You need to demonstrate urgency in solving problems for people on the gemba. You need a spirit of service. Going to gemba is the first step. Observing, offering sincere help and following through is what creates the "pull" from the gemba and slows your gemba walk down to 100 meters per hour.

G. Blum said...

The first thing I learned on the first day I started working for Cook was this: "Half of solving any problem is just showing up." That statement was made by Ken Wolverton, an engineer, Purdue guy, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, and all-around good guy. He passed away about 12 years ago.

He got it right. Just showing up is half the battle. It is for that reason that, to this day, we try, if at all possible, to have our construction meetings weekly on the jobsite.


Mark Graban said...

I'll echo everything Jon said. In first job at GM, I was very popular with the UAW workers because I respected them and listened to them and got things fixed for them. I guess I didn't know any better :-)