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Lean methodology stands out as a beacon of efficiency and productivity. Originating from Toyota's renowned production system, Lean principles have permeated industries worldwide, guiding entities towards streamlined operations, waste reduction, and enhanced value delivery. Yet, amidst the initial triumphs of implementing Lean lies a critical juncture: sustaining its gains and perpetuating improvement. This phase marks the true test of an organization's commitment to excellence, where the focus shifts from mere adoption to relentless advancement and sustainability.

 

At its core, Lean embodies a philosophy of continuous improvement where every process, however efficient, is subject to scrutiny for enhancement. This spirit mirrors the essence of sustainability - the ability to endure and thrive over time, adapting to changing circumstances and evolving demands. Thus, the convergence of Lean and sustainability is not merely incidental but intrinsic. Both concepts hinge on the relentless pursuit of optimization and resilience in facing challenges.

 

The journey toward sustainability within a Lean framework begins with a firm foundation built upon change, standardization, visualization, and unification toward a common purpose. These initial steps lay the groundwork for future progress, fostering a cohesive environment for ongoing improvement. However, sustaining Lean is not a static endeavour but a dynamic commitment to perpetual advancement.

 

Lean and Employees

One of the fundamental pillars of Lean is respect for people. Lean recognizes that individuals are not merely cogs in a machine but valuable contributors to organizational success.

 

A great example I saw to help combat this was at Baylist Medical, where they make assistive surgical technology. They measure products produced in terms of "patients" rather than units. This powerful message reminds the team daily what and who they are working for.

 

By actively soliciting and listening to employee feedback, organizations demonstrate their commitment to this principle. Employees feel valued and respected when their opinions are sought and acted upon, fostering a culture of engagement and empowerment.

 

Employee feedback serves as a reality check for Lean initiatives. While Lean methodologies provide a structured framework for improvement, their effectiveness ultimately depends on real-world applicability. Employees on the front lines can give invaluable feedback on the feasibility and practicality of proposed changes, ensuring that Lean strategies align with operational realities.

 

Case Study

A great example of this occurred while working at Amazon Canada. I was visiting a facility, and the senior team hosting me explained how happy they were with a new kaizen that had recently been implemented. Some employees struggled to see if all the top bins had been emptied in the packing process. This resulted in packages missing items and causing rework down the line. The team gave each packer a paint roller to hook onto the top bin to pull the product forward and check if the bin was empty. However, not a single packer was using this paint roller kaizen!

 

After watching for a short time, I walked over to the nearest packer and asked them, "Hey, do you have a minute? I have a question for you... Why are you not using the paint roller to check the top bins?" The packer smiled and said, "Try it for yourself," gesturing to the paint roller magnetically hanging on the metal side of their packaging station. I went to pull the roller off the bin and found it was virtually impossible to remove! It took two hands before I could get that thing off the bin! The magnets were so strong!

 

This case study demonstrates two critical points:

 

1) Go and see!

When you implement changes, you must go and see how they are being carried out! Amazon taught me repeatedly to Trust but Verify. Trust that your directions/actions have been implemented, but make sure you verify that things are as you expect!

 

2) Get Info From the Front Lines

Your front lines and employees carrying out work on the floor have the most practical knowledge about how to do their jobs more efficiently. Instead of spending multiple hours in a conference room solving a problem you think is happening, go down to the floor and watch what is actually happening. Look for points of stress, abnormalities, and bottlenecks. Remember, you are working with and for people, so you need to talk to people!

 

Gemba Walks

Gemba walks are a powerful tool in Lean management, involving leaders going to the "gemba," or the actual place where work is done, to observe processes, engage with employees, and identify opportunities for improvement firsthand. The power of Gemba was demonstrated in the above case study. I strongly believe in the power of effective Gembas, one of my favourite things to do with my clients. There is so much valuable insight that can be achieved through this practice. Honestly, the most challenging part of Gemba is a routine of consistently doing so and learning to "see." However, once you learn to "see," you can never un-see it!

 

Again, while at Amazon as the head of Canadian Operations, I continuously travelled to different fulfillment facilities across Canada. I made it a personal priority to make time for Gemba everywhere I went. To do this, I commonly scheduled a meeting with the building management team at 9 a.m. I would then make sure to be in the building by no later than 8 a.m. Mean? Perhaps!

 

As anyone who works on any team knows, the hour before a big meeting like this is typically chaos! The production floor is getting cleaned and tidied up, management is running around getting organized, and often, employees are pulled away from normal tasks to assist in getting ready. It should not be like this, though!

 

I would arrive early, not tell anyone I was there, and walk the plant floor alone. My favourite spot to watch the plant process was from a catwalk or other high vantage point. That way, I had a bird's-eye view of the processes while staying out of the way.

 

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Three key points to remember when conducting Gemba walks are:

 

1) Seek to Understand - focus on understanding the process and gathering insights rather than immediately proposing solutions.

 

2) Engage - actively listen to employees and value their expertise and perspectives on how to improve workflows.

 

3) Sustain - foster a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging open communication and collaboration between leaders and frontline workers.

 

Sustainable Habits

Implementing Lean thinking requires more than just adopting new practices; it necessitates cultivating habits promoting continuous improvement and waste reduction. One practical approach to fostering habits in Lean implementation is the 28-day habit tool, coupled with a strong emphasis on consistency to establish organizational stability and standards.

 

The 28-day habit tool is rooted in the idea that consistent repetition of action over 28 consecutive days can lead to forming a habit. This principle underscores the importance of sustained effort and repetition in ingraining new behaviours and practices. When applied to Lean thinking, the 28-day habit tool is a framework for systematically integrating Lean principles into daily operations and routines.

Consistency plays a pivotal role in creating stability and standards within an organization. By consistently applying Lean principles and methodologies, organizations establish a baseline of expectations and behaviours that become ingrained in the culture. Consistency fosters predictability, reliability, and repeatability, which are essential for achieving operational excellence and continuous improvement.

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To leverage the 28-day habit tool and promote consistency in Lean implementation, organizations can adopt the following strategies:

 

Structured Training and Education: Provide comprehensive training and education programs to ensure employees understand the core principles of Lean thinking and their relevance to their roles and responsibilities. Reinforce learning through regular workshops, seminars, and hands-on exercises.


Daily Rituals and Routines: Integrate Lean practices into daily rituals and routines to reinforce their importance and facilitate habit formation. Encourage team members to engage in daily stand-up meetings, Gemba walks, and visual management reviews to promote accountability and alignment with Lean objectives.


Layered Process Audits (LPAs): Systematic, recurring assessments conducted at various levels of an organization's process to ensure consistency and quality. These audits typically involve cross-functional teams inspecting critical process points to identify deviations, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.


TIM WOODS:

Identifies seven non-value-adding activities commonly found in manufacturing and service processes. TIM WOODS stands for Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over-processing, and Defects. By recognizing and eliminating these sources of waste, organizations can streamline operations, optimize resource utilization, and enhance customer satisfaction.

Continuous Monitoring and Feedback: Establish mechanisms for monitoring progress and providing feedback on Lean implementation efforts. Regularly review key performance indicators, conduct Gemba walks, and solicit employee feedback to identify areas for improvement and ensure alignment with organizational goals.


Leadership Support and Role Modeling: Demonstrate leadership commitment to Lean thinking by actively participating in Lean initiatives and serving as role models for desired behaviours. Leaders should consistently reinforce the importance of Lean principles, provide resources and support for implementation efforts, and recognize and reward individuals and teams that exemplify Lean practices.


Celebrate Milestones and Successes: Celebrate milestones and successes along the Lean journey to acknowledge progress and maintain momentum. Recognize individuals and teams for their contributions to Lean implementation, share success stories and best practices, and highlight the tangible benefits of Lean thinking in driving organizational performance and competitiveness. This can be as simple as taking the team out for lunch, with the successful completion of a 28-day challenge as both a celebration and motivation booster. This activity also helps with team morale and brings everyone closer.

 

By embracing the 28-day habit tool and prioritizing consistency in Lean implementation, organizations can foster habits that support the sustained application of Lean principles and drive continuous improvement across all levels of the organization. Through structured training, daily rituals, continuous monitoring, leadership support, and celebrating successes, organizations can create a culture where Lean thinking becomes ingrained in the organization's fabric, driving lasting results and competitive advantage.

 

Final Thoughts

Continuous improvement in Lean also entails harnessing the power of data and technology. Leveraging advanced analytics, machine learning, and automation, organizations can uncover insights, identify inefficiencies, and optimize processes with unprecedented precision. By embracing innovation, companies can stay ahead of the curve and drive sustainable growth in an ever-evolving landscape.

However, sustaining Lean is not without its challenges. Complacency, resistance to change, and short-term thinking can impede progress and erode gains. Thus, leadership is pivotal in maintaining momentum and fostering a culture of excellence. Leaders must champion the cause of Lean and provide the necessary support, resources, and incentives to empower employees to drive continuous improvement.

 

Quick Read

Lean methodology, stemming from Toyota's renowned production system, has become synonymous with efficiency and productivity across industries worldwide. While initial implementation yields success, the true challenge lies in sustaining gains and perpetuating improvement. At its core, Lean embodies a philosophy of perpetual betterment, advocating for a culture of continuous improvement and sustainability. This convergence of Lean and sustainability hinges on a firm foundation built upon change, standardization, visualization, and unification.

Central to Lean's success is its recognition of the importance of employees.

 

Organizations foster a culture of engagement and empowerment by valuing their input and actively soliciting feedback. Employee feedback is a vital reality check for Lean initiatives, ensuring alignment with operational realities and driving tangible improvements. A case study from Amazon highlights the importance of "going and seeing" and obtaining insights from frontline workers, emphasizing the need for practical knowledge in problem-solving.

 

Gemba walks, where leaders observe processes firsthand, engage with employees, and identify improvement opportunities, are instrumental in Lean management. These walks facilitate valuable insights and promote a culture of continuous improvement. Three key points for effective Gemba walks include understanding processes, actively listening to employees, and fostering open communication and collaboration.

 

In sustaining Lean thinking, the 28-day habit tool and consistency play crucial roles. The 28-day habit tool emphasizes the formation of habits through consistent repetition, while consistency establishes stability and standards within the organization. Strategies such as structured training, daily rituals, and leadership support are essential for leveraging the 28-day habit tool and promoting consistency in Lean implementation.

 

Ultimately, sustaining Lean requires embracing innovation and overcoming challenges like complacency and resistance to change. Leadership is pivotal in maintaining momentum and fostering a culture of excellence. Organizations can achieve lasting results and competitive advantage in today's dynamic business environment by championing Lean principles and empowering employees to drive continuous improvement.

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The misconception that Lean principles are exclusive to manufacturing or production environments is a significant oversight. I first learned about Lean thinking while working at Toyota in 2001. From then on, Lean has been a part of my life professionally and personally. Lean thinking went with me and contributed to my success at BlackBerry. It greatly challenged my thinking when I continued as the leader of the Canadian operations at Amazon. As someone deeply immersed in Lean methodologies within my business today and throughout my career, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of Lean thinking on and beyond the factory floor.

 

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Initially conceived by Toyota to optimize production processes, Lean management principles have transcended their origins and found success across a spectrum of industries. This adaptability is a testament to the fundamental effectiveness of Lean methodologies in driving operational excellence and fostering continuous improvement.

 

It's crucial to recognize that Lean isn't bound by industry constraints; rather, its core tenets of efficiency, waste reduction, and customer-centricity can be applied to any organizational context. By embracing Lean practices, businesses in service-oriented sectors such as healthcare, finance, and hospitality can unlock untapped potential for enhancing efficiency and elevating customer satisfaction.

 

In essence, the application of Lean thinking in service industries isn't just a possibility; it's a strategic imperative. By delving into how Lean methodologies can streamline processes, minimize waste, and optimize resource utilization, we can unearth opportunities for significant improvements across diverse sectors. So, let's take a deeper look into how Lean principles can revolutionize service-oriented industries and pave the way for unparalleled success and growth.

 

Understanding Lean Thinking in Services

 

Lean thinking is rooted in the concept of continuous improvement and the elimination of waste. While manufacturing environments traditionally embraced these principles, service industries are increasingly recognizing the value of Lean thinking in streamlining their operations. In service-oriented sectors such as healthcare, finance, and hospitality, Lean principles can be tailored to address the unique challenges and opportunities present.

 

To begin with, we must first think of processes. Every job has a process, and that is where we can start implementing lean. When jobs have repeating tasks in a specific order, we can view them as a one-directional flow of productivity.

 

For example, when you consider a hairdresser, you might think there is no way that lean thinking can improve the process of something so creative and variable. But when you break down the tasks a hairstylist goes through, you begin to see the same process unfold: The client walks in, sits in the chair, and describes what they want to be done. The stylist washes, trims/colours the hair, and styles it, and the customer pays and leaves.

 

When you view each part of the process through a lean lens, the elements will become clear, and you will know which steps improve overall customer satisfaction. Perhaps tools are much farther away than they need to be, maybe the colour station (where hair dies are mixed) is in the back of the building, and the stylist has to walk back and forth multiple times during the appointment to mix colours. Is there a way to standardize popular colour combinations? Is there a standard order of tasks based on specific needs, such as a haircut vs. highlights?

 

Lean can be applied anywhere; it just changes how it is achieved. Next, I'd like to offer some case studies that highlight how specific elements of Lean can be applied to other service industry needs.

 

Value Stream Mapping in Service Delivery

 

We have all been there! You go to the doctor's office for your regular check-up. You arrive on time. There is no one else in the waiting room, and then you sit... for an hour.. waiting to go to the examination room. Then once you finally reach the examination room, you sit and wait for twenty minutes for the nurse to come in and ask you all the required questions so that you can sit and wait for ANOTHER fifteen minutes for the doctor to finally come in and tell you everything looks good and see you in a year. What if Doctors' offices and hospitals utilized value stream mapping to improve service delivery?

 

One key aspect of Lean thinking is the application of value stream mapping to visualize and analyze the flow of processes. In service industries, understanding the entire value stream is crucial for identifying areas of improvement. For instance, a healthcare provider may use value stream mapping to optimize the patient journey from appointment scheduling to post-treatment follow-up. By eliminating unnecessary steps and bottlenecks, organizations can enhance the overall efficiency of service delivery.

 

Kaizen in Customer Service: A Continuous Improvement Approach

 

Kaizen is an incredible tool for any process. All jobs involve some element of the process. There will always be specific tasks that you have to do daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. While some tasks may be more repetitive than others in certain industries, there are always processes to work with to implement lean thinking.

 

Think about a restaurant: Every new guest starts the same process: Greet guest(s) at the door and take them to their table. Provide a menu and drink/food recommendations. Take their order, deliver it, and then provide any additional top-ups or requests. Clear dishes as necessary until the bill is provided. Clean the table... Repeat.

 

What if Kaizen was introduced to this restaurant process? By consistently employing Kaizen methodologies, the restaurant examines and refines elements such as menu efficiency, order processing times, and guest satisfaction procedures. Something as simple as keeping condiments on the table instead of requiring servers to supply condiments on request can save a lot of wasted time and motion of the serving staff and increase customer satisfaction and impression of the meal. Through the implementation of incremental adjustments, the establishment can realize substantial progress in both customer contentment and operational effectiveness.

Let's examine a few compelling case studies to illustrate the tangible benefits of Lean thinking in service industries.

 

Case Study 1: Improving Patient Flow in Healthcare

 

Background:
A large hospital system faced challenges with patient flow, resulting in long wait times, increased frustration, and a suboptimal patient experience.

 

Lean Implementation:
The hospital adopted Lean principles to streamline the patient journey. Through value stream mapping, the team identified areas for improvement, such as optimizing appointment scheduling, reducing redundant paperwork, and enhancing communication between departments.

 

Results:
After implementing Lean strategies, the hospital achieved a 20% reduction in patient wait times, improved staff morale, and increased patient satisfaction scores. The streamlined processes enhanced the overall quality of care and contributed to cost savings through resource optimization.

 

Case Study 2: Lean Thinking in Financial Services

 

Background:
A leading financial institution faced challenges with lengthy loan approval processes, leading to customer dissatisfaction and lost opportunities.

 

Lean Implementation:
Applying Lean principles, the organization reviewed its loan approval process comprehensively. Through Kaizen events and value stream mapping, they identified and eliminated redundant steps, implemented standardized procedures, and introduced cross-functional teams to expedite decision-making.

 

Results:
The financial institution experienced a 30% reduction in the time taken for loan approvals. This enhanced customer satisfaction and allowed the organization to capitalize on market opportunities more swiftly. The implementation of Lean principles contributed to a more agile and responsive financial service operation.

 

Case Study 3: Lean in Hospitality: Optimizing Guest Experiences

 

Background:
A luxury hotel chain aimed to enhance guest experiences by reducing check-in times, improving room turnover, and personalizing customer interactions.

 

Lean Implementation:
The hotel chain embraced Lean principles by applying value stream mapping to the guest journey. They streamlined check-in processes, reduced housekeeping turnaround times, and implemented a customer relationship management system for personalized service.

 

Results:
The Lean initiatives led to a 25% reduction in check-in times, a 15% increase in room occupancy rates, and overwhelmingly positive guest feedback. By incorporating Lean thinking, the hotel not only elevated customer satisfaction but also achieved operational excellence in a highly competitive industry.

 

Quick Read

Initially devised for manufacturing, lean thinking has shown remarkable versatility across various sectors. Lean principles are tailored to enhance efficiency and customer satisfaction in service industries like healthcare, finance, and hospitality. Organizations can streamline processes and drive continuous improvement by applying Lean concepts such as value stream mapping and Kaizen.

 

In healthcare, Lean methodologies have led to a 20% reduction in patient wait times and increased satisfaction. Financial institutions adopting Lean strategies reduced loan approval times by 30%, while a luxury hotel chain saw a 25% decrease in check-in times and a 15% rise in room occupancy rates.

 

These case studies illustrate how Lean principles can transform service delivery, improving operational efficiency and customer experiences. Regardless of the industry, Lean thinking fosters a culture of innovation and waste reduction, enabling organizations to thrive in today's competitive landscape.

 

The application of Lean thinking in service industries is possible and has proven to be a catalyst for transformative change. As illustrated by the case studies, organizations that embrace Lean principles in service delivery can achieve operational excellence, enhance customer satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge. Whether in healthcare, finance, or hospitality, Lean thinking offers a systematic and adaptable approach to continuous improvement. By fostering a culture of efficiency, waste reduction, and innovation, service-oriented sectors can navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape with confidence and success.

 

Related Articles:

 

Continuous improvement: The Heart of Lean Philosophy

10 Important Steps to Effective Gemba Walks of "Go See"

Prioritized Leader Actions are for, Well, EVERYONE!

Looking for Evidence Through Gemba

Leadership Development includes Learning to 'See'

Conflicts Of Planning Line Trials

High Performance Leadership Essentials For High Performance Teams

 

 

 

Writers Note:

Please note that these case studies are not based on any clients of HPL. These case studies and statistics are based on the average of multiple studies done on lean within each of these industries. 

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An essential skill for leaders is to learn to "see."  Seeing beyond what most people see or at least seeing a different perspective of the same image.  Teaching your eyes to see is a learned skill that, once mastered, opens your eyes to many new things.

 

Teaching your eyes to see - Learning to see

 

An example of teaching your eyes to see that I experienced while on an in-depth TPS training program in Japan several years ago involved learning to see 1/10th of a second kaizens.  1/10th of a second is very difficult to see and equates to the slightest of hand motions, movements, or on equipment, tiny adjustments.  We had the task of reducing the cycle time within a production line by 30 seconds but doing so through 1/10th of a second kaizens.  Being experienced operations guys and after observing the line for several cycles, it was apparent to us what was needed.  With some changes to the layout, moving equipment closer together, adjusting the material flow, and other equipment modifications, the 30 seconds was a done deal.  As part of the training, we had to prepare a scaled drawing detailing our kaizen ideas.  Our Sensei would review the drawings, and if approved, the improvements would get implemented.  We spent several hours drafting our kaizen ideas on day one and provided the completed drawings for review and approval.  The Sensei looked at the proposals and very clearly expressed his disapproval!  We received a similar response several times over the following couple of days.  We were ready to throw in the towel, but then suddenly, like a light switch, we could see these subtle movements of waste and 1/10th of a second kaizens.

 

Although I don't necessarily advocate this teaching method, it emphasizes that leadership development needs to include learning to see what is or what is not happening.  It is important to see those subtle forms of waste, abnormalities, opportunities, and, I suggest, clues that then beg questions.  Good questions!

 

For example, one time, while on a Gemba, we came across a box of rubber gloves attached to a column of the building.  Above the box was a handwritten sign that said

 

"Gloves are for hazardous material spills only."

 

This situation was crazy on so many levels!  We didn't just see a poorly made sign and a duct-taped glove box.  We 'saw' many questions and concerns, such as:

 

  • How often are hazardous material spills happening?
  • Are spills so frequent that we think we need gloves conveniently placed?
  • Are these spills actually "hazardous materials"?!?!?!
  • With the gloves free for the taking, are hazardous material spills happening and not being reported?
  • Does the leadership even know when the spills are happening and investigating?
  • How are the gloves and wastes from the spills being disposed of?
  • Assuming for a minute that it was a good practice to have the gloves available, how do they get replenished?
  • Are the people cleaning up these spills properly, and are they adequately trained to do so?
  • Why are spills happening in the first place?

STOP!!!  TIME OUT!

 

 

This example is pretty astounding and scary and may seem hard to believe, but yet it is true.  It is even more disturbing that many leaders walked right past this sign during the Gemba and didn't even notice it.  Even more frightful, the building leadership had walked past it many times and didn't really "see" it!

 

So how do you learn to see?  Practice.

 

Go to the floor with a specific purpose to learn to see.  For example, go with a focus on seeing one specific thing.   Such as arm overreaching, bending, twisting, outdated signs or posters, trip hazards, pinch points, sign effectiveness and meaning, opportunities to cause product damage, unnecessary motion, a specific type of waste stream, sources of floor debris, etc., etc.  The point is to dedicate an appropriate amount of time to see a particular focus.  Look for that focus and only that focus.  Ask yourself as many questions as possible on that specific item when you see it.  See beyond the obvious.  Look for deeper meaning, symptoms, evidence, and abnormalities.  Repeat often with a new or different focus.  With practice, you will soon see these things naturally and without effort.  Once you learn to see, you won't be able to turn it off.

 

Nope, it's not rocket science.  Seems too easy, right?  Try it.  You'll like it!

 

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One of the things I’ve always loved is the simple kaizens (continuous improvement). I was reminded of this recently working with RAB Design Lighting when the team there was conducting some line trials. Having coached the team on the importance of detailed trial planning and real-as-possible process set-up, but also the need to be balanced with simplicity, low cost, and high flexibility, I was thrilled to see their creativity and ingenuity that met these two potentially conflicting criteria. See examples in the pictures below.

 



The two criteria mentioned above is important because you want a trial to simulate the real line conditions as much as possible, however, things will definitely change as you learn more. So you don’t want to invest time and money building/buying a lot of things that may not actually be used in the permanent line or that may require several iterations of changes to get just right.

When conducting line trails careful planning is necessary. Planning such as: Clearly defining the purpose of the trial is critical. Determining what are you trying to prove, disprove or discover. Setting up the line to simulate as close as possible what the actual real line will look and feel like. Protecting the trial from “noise” or other things that can negatively impact or distract from the purpose of the trial. Although some of these things maybe real, you should try and isolate them from initial trials if they are not directly related to the purpose. There is a time and place to allow real time disruptions and abnormalities but not in early trials. Identifying and defining the number of trial observers, their roles, responsibilities and tracking needs. Deciding on what metrics to track and measure throughout the trial and who is going to do that. Scheduling, taking into account breaks, lunches and shift end, is also important.

Trials are to experiment and learn. They can also be a great deal of fun along the way! 

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We took a bit of a post break over the summer but will pick-up where we left off talking about leading problem solving in non-manufacturing environments. This is post #4 in the series. If you missed the others or need a refresh, here they are:

 

1 Second Understanding in non-manufacturing

 

TIM WOODS (8 forms of waste)

 

Teaching your eyes to see with TIM WOODS

 

A core responsibility of any leader is to help identify problems and challenges for their teams to get engaged and resolve. A great way to do this is through gemba or “go & see”. If you are not familiar with this term, we will include some links on the topic at the end of the post. Gemba can be done alone or with your team. There is a place for both.

 

One of the many purposes of gemba is to look for evidence. Evidence that things are going well, and to identify opportunities for improvement. If done regularly, you should be able to discover needed improvements before they lead to a significant situation or crisis. When it comes to opportunities, you are looking for standards not being followed, lack of standards, or signs that there is a some form of abnormality that is not being addressed. Let’s look at examples of each.

 

All companies have some form of standards, policies, or rules that are documented and employees are expected to follow. However, far too often we don’t use gemba to check on them to confirm if they are being followed or not. If not, why not and what do we need to do? As a result, a crisis or urgent situation is usually when we take action, dropping everything else to attend to it.

 

Here’s a very common example where a company has a smoking policy which states smoking is only permitted in the designated smoking areas. It’s easy to assume that the policy is being followed, until an employee lodges a formal agency complaint against the company that they are entering the building every day walking through a haze of smokers at the front door that needless to say are not in the designated smoking area. Your day, just evaporated!

 

Using gemba of this nature is to take a walk and look for evidence. Not only do you observe people using the designated smoking area or not, but is there evidence that this standard is not being adhered to? How? Are there cigarette butts outside of the designated smoking area? Can you find cigarette butts near the front doors or other non-designated locations? If so, this is evidence that the standard is not being consistently followed and action is required.

 

This is beyond a 5S issue with cigarette butts on the ground!

 

While doing so, you may discover other unrelated evidence that you weren’t expecting. For example in this picture, there is remnants of yellow caution tape on the hand railing. Why? Upon further investigation it is determined that these steps often ice over and so the stairs are closed. However, is this addressing the root cause? Is this a good solution? Again, further action is warranted.

 

The second evidence gemba is about looking to find where there is a lack of standards or absence of good practices currently in place. Gemba of this nature may begin with a specific focus item or theme, or a simply a search for any abnormalities.

 

 

For our example let’s assume that we are leading a team that works on confidential new product designs. The team has doubled in size in the last year. Although there isn’t currently a standard or policy in place, it’s always been the practice to secure confidential information at the end of each day. In this case, you may want to do a gemba of the work place to see how many confidential documents, files, drawings, etc that you find unsecured after the team leaves for the day. Based on the evidence found, action may be required.

 

The last evidence gemba is where we want to find problems or opportunities before they become a big deal. There are two effective ways to do so. The first one is very easy and is guaranteed to reveal exceptional opportunities. Do a gemba and just talk to your team and simply ask “What frustrates you?” They will tell you! These frustrations are problems that are bubbling and definitely already distractions, but if left without action, will eventually become a significant issue.

 

The second way of finding problems or opportunities is to walk the work place looking for abnormalities and then think beyond the obvious for possible explanations and/or ask questions to solicit insights from them. The potentials here are endless and somewhat dependant on the environment and work performed. Here’s a brief list of some common potential issues in non-manufacturing environments:

 

  • Team using makeshift materials for laptop/monitor stands or creating their own stand-up stations – evidence of potential ergonomic concerns and/or inflexible workstations.
  • Excess paper in the recycle bins next to printers or photo-copiers, evidence of potential frequent equipment jams or poor printing capabilities.
  • Team members searching for documents, materials, or equipment to perform their jobs, sharing of the same between them could be evidence that the team has outgrown the previous levels of core essentials to efficiently do their jobs.

 

After you have used gemba to gather the evidence in any of these 3 scenarios, it is time to engage the team to understand the root cause, determine appropriate actions, and to implement the necessary changes to drive resolution to solve the problems and make improvements.

 

For those interested in learning more about gemba, please review the following articles:

 

10 Important Steps of Effective Gemba Walks or “Go See”

 

The Different Types Of Gemba

 

Gemba by any other name is… go & see! Gemba is NOT just for manufacturing processes!

 

3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba

 

 

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As we move towards the ‘new normal’, our need to adapt the way we execute our work will demand an increase in our continuous improvement and innovation (CI&I) activity.

 

As you do this, I would encourage you to follow the logic I use for future state design – THINK TO S.E.E – Simple, Elegant and Effective. 

 

When you approach CI&I, the focus should always be on simplifying how we do our work – it is much easier to make things more complicated than it is to simply them.   Solutions should be elegant or well-designed following design thinking methodology.  And finally, it is critical that processes are effective in delivering internal and external customer value.   

 

Developing and executing future state design using the THINK TO S.E.E approach does take more thought and effort, but the effort will have a much higher rate of return.   Quoting Mark Twain – “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter”. 

 

If you would be interested in attending a virtual skill development session on the THINK TO S.E.E methodology, please let me know. 

 

Keep improving. 

Scott

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Combining HPSC’s “build strong” and HPL’s “lead well” philosophies, the two companies collaborated to launch the “LeadWell Series” on 29 January 2020, to deliver short burst skill development opportunities for leaders.  Starting the series with the topic of “Gemba Walks”,  30 leaders representing over 10 companies participated in a gemba walk skill development segment, best practices sharing, and a gemba walk at Baylis Medical to practice their skills and to “go & see” the linkage between Baylis’s tier 2, 3, and 4 level leader boards. 

 

The LeadWell Series is intended to provide leaders with opportunities to improve their skills rapidly (3-4 hours) in areas of most interest and importance to them and then put them into practice at their operation immediately.  Topics are selected based on leader input and requests.  Each LeadWell Series topic is structured around

 

3 key pillars:

  1. Short burst skill development on a topic of leader interest
  2. Bench marking and best practice sharing
  3. A commitment to implement a best practice

 

What attending leaders are saying they liked about this “LeadWell Series – Gemba Walks”:

 

“Real-life examples”

“The guidance provided during the presentation of best practices for effective and ineffective gemba walks which framed the ‘go and see’ element of the event.”

“New ideas and concepts I can try right away”

“Interacting with other leaders to discuss do’s and do not’s, lessons learned, and strategies that have proven successful.”

“Seeing what everyone is struggling with despite the company they belong to.”

 

Special thanks to Baylis Medical for hosting and sharing their boards and progress with everyone!

 

Leave a comment and let us know what LeadWell Series topics you would be interested in?

 

 

 

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I was reminded recently of the importance of Gemba or “Go See”. Or at least, I was reminded as to how few leaders actually do it or know how to do it well. In my opinion, Gemba is the most important tool a leader has. It provides you the opportunity to see what is really going on, to confirm what your team is telling you, to see what they aren’t telling you or they don’t see, to truly engage with your team, identify waste in the process, and is an important first step towards developing an improvement plan.

 

While observing a process with another leader recently it became clear that he was struggling to really see what was going on in the process. It was no wonder really. He was so distracted by everything else that was going on around the process. As a result of not really seeing, he and his team had made many significant changes to the process but were not achieving their targets because they hadn’t addressed the real problem.

 

Here are what I believe to be the 10 important steps for effective gemba:

 

1. Schedule time for gemba. A leader needs to spend focused quality time observing their processes. It will never happen unless you proactively block time in your calendar to do so. There are always other things that will steal your time, so invest in yourself first by having standing times reserved in your calendar for gemba. Then keep them.

 

2. Go see with a specific theme. If you are conducting what I call a leadership gemba – meaning you are going to check on your general operations and not a specific problematic process, go with a specific theme of what you are going to look for. For example, today my gemba theme is 'safety' and more specifically 'over-reaching'. This way you are focused and can train your eyes to see the themed area. This approach is far more productive and results in specific actions versus a long laundry list of “to-do’s” for your team, or even worse, a nice stroll with nothing really observed.

 

3. Introduce yourself and explain what you’re doing. Always introduce yourself to anyone whose process you are observing. Explain to them why and what you’re looking for. Put them at ease. No one likes to be spied on, particularly by the “boss”. Take away the concern right away and explain. It also shows respect.

 

4. Remain focused. When doing gemba don’t get distracted by other processes, people, or your cell phone. Remain focused on the task at hand. You don’t want to miss something. Typically it’s not a problem with the standard work that is creating a problem in the process, it’s either not following the standard work or the abnormalities that periodically happen that impact it. If you aren’t paying full attention all the time, you will miss these opportunities to see.

 

5. Remember TIM WOODS. When observing a process you need to look for all forms of waste. TIM WOODS is a good reminder of the various forms of waste.

 


 

6. Allow time to see the unseen. Gemba takes time as you need to give yourself enough time to observe multiple cycles of the process. Check that each cycle is completed the same way according to standardized work. In addition, you want to be able to see the abnormalities and periodic work that do occur in and around the process that otherwise are unseen and far to often go unnoticed.

 

7. Ask questions and request suggestions. Engage directly with the person in the process, when safe and appropriate to do so. Ask them questions about some of the observations you’ve made, such as “how often does this happen?” Seek clarification of your observations or assumptions. Most importantly, request their input. “If you could change one thing in this process, what would that be?” Ask their opinion on how to best improve the process.

 

8. Conduct on the spot trials. Try minor things right then and there to determine if there are better ways of setting up the process. Hold a tool, part, or indirect material for a few cycles to determine if there is an alternative home position that is easier for the operator. It’s a great way to get the operator involved early and demonstrate you are trying to help them.

 

9. Summarize your observations. Write down the opportunities you observed and estimate the associated time savings or burden reductions identified. This will allow you as the leader to determine how much improvement can be expected and to assist you in setting a target for improvement with your team.

 

10. Take action. Another great thing about gemba is that, unless you are dead, you will have to take action to improve the process. You won’t be able to stop yourself because you have seen the waste and you have many great ideas to make meaningful improvements. Whether it’s a quick action item or two, some “just do it” improvements, or a multi-day kaizen event it is critical that you take immediate action to obtain sustained improvement. If you don’t, you will lose the trust and confidence of the operators.

 

What would you add to this list? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and experience in the comments below.

 

Related Posts:

 

     Gemba Walks - Tip #1

 

     Gemba Walks - Tip #2

 

     The best place for a meeting...is on the roof

 

     Teaching your eyes to see

 

     3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba

 

     Gemba by any other name is... go & See!

 

     Toyota's Worst Best Kept Secret & The Top Five Reasons For It

 

      Read more of Glenn's posts  HERE

 

    

 

 

 

 

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