SHALLOW GEMBA, DEEP GEMBA
We talk a lot in Lean circles about going to gemba, the place where work actually happens. There we can see, with our own eyes, what is happening. Mark Graban got me thinking more deeply about this recently when he posted about a Presidential candidate visiting the workplace, to “understand how the worker felt.”
The political candidate, by definition, can’t go deep into the workplace. It’s a “drive-by” gemba. No matter how sincere, it is shallow. The politician simply can’t know enough to “see” what is going on to any depth at all. When I drive by a wooded area, I see trees. My friend who is an outdoorsman sees oaks and maples and ash and sycamores. I’m shallow, he is deeper.
After reading of the politician, I turned the question on myself, someone responsible for manufacturing. How many of my visits to gemba are, in fact, really shallow? If I take a quick walk through, greeting people, exchanging pleasant comments about kids and family, I advance some of the human issues needed to show respect for people. Yet, on the other hand, I’m not much different than the politician; indeed, I risk coming across as no better than a candidate pressing the flesh, looking for votes.
I must also spend time in the workplace doing deep gemba. This is almost always focused on a single item or small group of items. One process. One machine. One cell. One loading dock. One cart loop. It also must take time. I don’t know how you do this in less than 30-60 minutes, at a minimum. In some cases it will be several hours or a day or three days.
Further, deep gemba must have some end in mind. While we generically say we are “looking for waste,” I must scroll though the seven wastes with an mood of curiosity, asking “just what am I seeing?” And when I see something that doesn’t make sense, stop. And find out what it is. And this takes time.