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:
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:
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:
January 24, 2024
January 11, 2024
January 9, 2023