Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You go to "gemba"--then what??

Had a useful walk through our production areas today.  And it hit me, just what was I looking for?  Where were my eyes going?  What was attracting my attention? 
The physical setting items are obvious:
  • Is the area neat?  Is there any material here which should not be here? Is there something missing?
  • Are the visual controls operating? 
  • Is the flow of material obvious, unobstructed, smooth?
But there is more.  If we respect people, the human factor must also be present.
  • What is the mood?  I can only tell if I speak with people, asking open ended questions and listening carefully.
  • What are people saying about each other?  Teamwork is always key; healthy relationships are a key barometer.
  • Does anyone ask me a question?  If not, they may feel they can't ask someone "above them".  That's a problem.  If they do, the nature of their questions tell me more of real concerns.
In short, I must speak briefly and listen carefully to truly grasp the workplace, the place where we create value, "gemba".  It's not enough to merely observe. 
Keep learning. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kanban in a Resturaunt

For a couple of years now, my wife and I have enjoyed having lunch at McAlister's Deli, a line of resturaunts specializing in freshly prepared sandwiches, soups and salads served with exceptional levels of service.

A couple of weeks ago, we got a surprise while there. After our server brought us our food, she put a small red card on the table. "If you need a refill on your drinks, just flip this over," she said and walked away.

"This is a kanban card!" I exclaimed. My wife, a wonderfully patient woman, steeled herself once more for a monologue on pull systems and the beauty thereof.

Indeed, it was a pull system, in all its simple spendor but applied in a place not often expected to use such a tool.

The card is quite simple. If you are happy and don't need any attention, you leave the red side up, near the edge of your table. The server sees it and takes no action.

But once you are thirsty and need a refill (and those of you who have eaten with me realize this is often the case), you flip the card to green. Green means "go" and, in our experience, within 60 seconds a helpful server stops by, picks up the glass, confirms what drink you had, refills it, brings it back to the table and flips the card back to red.

It is just that simple.

Think about what this does for the customer. When you need service, you don't have to crane your neck, wondering if someone will stop by. Instead, you simply flip the card over and, soon, a person stops at the table. Conversation, the reason many eat out, continues uninterrupted. You finish explore topics in depth... you don't wonder when or if you'll get another Diet Coke. In Lean terms, the customer gets more value.

Think as well what this does for McAlisters. The eye can move much faster than the foot. So, a simple scan by a server of a group of tables says, in seconds, who needs service and who wishes to be left alone. This allows a single server to handle more tables, more efficiently. Yeah, productivity.

All while providing added value to the customer.

At vitually no extra cost. All for a few laminated cards.

It is amazing what simple systems can do. Where can you apply this?

Click here to subscribe to Learning about Lean by email.