Gemba Keiei, Chapter 4: Go See What Didn’t Work with Your Own Eyes

Taiichi Ohno starts this chapter by pointing out that it’s relatively easy to convince the people on the Gemba (factory floor) by having them try the new way and see that is better than another way, but that this is harder to convince managers, senior managers, and supervisors.

In disagreements between managers each side thinks they are right. If the managers don’t believe that the new way is better than the current way (the way they know or think is right) then they won’t support it. If they don’t support it then the people in the factory won’t try it and this limits you ability to make gains in productivity through kaizen.

Ohno says that managers have differing ideas or points of view they should try one way for a day and another way on the next day. Let the results show which is the better idea. Each side should try as hard as they can to demonstrate that their way is better. They should pursue their ideas with conviction.

Taiichi Ohno says that this type of conviction is not the same thing as being stubborn and unwilling to change your ideas. If you believe yours is a good idea, try it and see if it works. There may be some things that don’t quite work, but there will also be some benefits. Go see what didn’t work with your own eyes, says Ohno.

Taiichi Ohno scolds managers just for listening to reports and saying “So it didn’t work after all” rather than seeing the new idea in action with their own eyes and verifying if it works or not, and why.

Here Ohno uses a very important phrase. Most people trying to implement Lean manufacturing or Lean transactions have met the objection of “We tried it before and it didn’t work” at least once. Ohno says “I didn’t see that failure for myself. Please try it again so that I can verify it.”

He uses the example of the regrinding of the cutting tools from Chapter 3 as an example. The manager in this case said “We tried centralizing regrinding during the war and it didn’t work.” Ohno says to the manager, “I wasn’t there to see it. Let me see it fail again. If I understand why it failed then I’ll accept your answer.” When Ohno observed the trial, the system worked and he theorizes that the Toyota managers didn’t try hard to make centralized regrinding succeed because the army procurement made them do it during the war.

Ohno does say that while observing the trial of the new method there were many things that had to be worked out. People knowledgeable in grinding, the metals involved, the machines used, the angles of the tools, etc. had to be consulted so that standards could be established. Taiichi Ohno says that by using a kaizen process like this you can establish standards that allow anyone to perform a process that in the past was limited to specialists and experts.

In today’s world, this is why it is so vitally important for Lean initiatives to always empower and involve the “experts” – the workers themselves – in the changes. The kaizen event process is an excellent way to make rapid change happen while making sure there is ownership in the changes. This is an effective way to take the ideas and experience of a larger group of people can be used to solve problems that arise.

Taiichi Ohno ends the chapter by saying “That was in days immediately after the war. I don’t think people do things that way anymore.” It’s hard to tell if he is being sincere or not. I suspect he is being ironic, as I’m sure he met many people still had the same bad habits in the days when he was writing this book.

In my experience, even today there are still plenty of organizations full of people who do not “go see” to understand what didn’t work. People prefer to debate in a comfortable office, sixty years since the war, and 23 after Taiichi Ohno first penned those words. That is why Gemba Kaizen and learning by seeing and doing is so effective in helping people change how they work.