Tips for Lean Managers

How to Reduce the Distance Between Management and Gemba

By Jon Miller Published on June 5th, 2007

This issue, and how it is addressed, is one of the main factors separating successful and sustained lean transformations from those that are not. Let’s say the distance between management and the gemba is value D and the quality, quantity and speed of information received by management is value I. There is an inverse relationship between value D and value I. The greater the distance, the less the information is truly useful. In fact it is probably an inverse square relationship.
How do we reduce this distance between management and gemba, so that better quality information can arrive faster, in greater quantities to the decision-making space known as the minds or leadership?
Execute the executive conference rooms. Having nice offices, board rooms, and conference rooms creates a disincentive for people to go to gemba. The comfort and privacy of the large personal office or the conference room makes them one of the favorite hiding place of your company’s most serious problems. These most serious problems don’t like to be exposed, so they hide among the data, beneath the mahogany, behind the bookshelves full of trophies. But don’t get up to look for them, they’ll see you coming and find another nook to hide in. If you have the type of customers that like to pay the added cost of the executive conference rooms, or the personal offices, and the problems that they hide that is great. But these are the customers of yesterday.
Unplug the real time digital dashboards. Or at least turn them off for most of the day. Turn off e-mail capability to report status from the shop floor to management, and Blackberries also, while you’re at it. Make it so that you have to go to the information, not make information come to you.
Take the management on some eye-opening gemba walks. You can’t expect the average manager to know what to look for or how to see the abnormality in current condition if they have become habituated. It takes less than a minute to give people an “a-ha!” on a gemba walk, in most gembas. These gemba walks should be led by people with very sharp eyes for waste who are adept at asking open-ended questions, preferably starting with “Why..?” You may need to hire a respected outside expert to come in and do this, so that the person who gets fired for speaking the truth to management is not you. They key word is “challenge”.

Let the shop floor evaluate the effectiveness of the support staff.
Let the branches evaluate the effectiveness of the headquarters staff. If the surgical staff was ineffective, wouldn’t the doctor let them know it? If the pit crew was slow and sloppy, wouldn’t the F1 driver let them hear about it? So why accept this distance between management and gemba, and let this reverese customer-supplier relationship persist? Let the gemba evaluate the effectiveness of management, rather than the other way around.

Add sangen shugi
(三現主義 – rhymes with “Fun again, Shuggie!”) to the thinking behind your Lean, Six Sigma or operational excellence system. One of the guiding principles of Lean is genchi genbutsu (actual place, actual thing) but the third part of the “3 gen philosophy” that is missing in translation is genjitsu (the facts). All decisions should be made based on facts as observed and obtained with the actual thing (or service) where it is actually created or actually used by the customer. This is part of the so-called Toyota DNA because it reduces the distance between management and gemba.
One of the key drivers of Lean is the idea that all processes, systems, organization structures, IT solutions, buildings and so forth should be designed to support one-piece flow delivery of high quality products and services to customers at a low cost. Likewise, when making decisions affecting processes, systems, organization structures, IT solutions, buildings and so forth, a key question must be to ask “how will this decision reduce the distance between management and gemba?

  1. Ron

    June 6, 2007 - 6:15 am

    Good points Jon. I am curious if you don’t mind me probing… as you are an executive for Gemba Research I wonder how you do at “Turn off e-mail capability to report status from the shop floor to management, and Blackberries also, while you’re at it.”

  2. Jon Miller

    June 6, 2007 - 1:06 pm

    Hi Ron,
    This is a tough one. My gemba is a combination of client sites for my accounts as well those of other Gemba team members. Making the rounds adequately to these gembas can be difficult. Electronic data on our performance doesn’t really tell the tale, and it’s after the fact in any case. The short-term solution is lots of travel and the long-term solution is developing leaders, better zone control and andon systems.

  3. Rajdeep

    June 7, 2007 - 7:33 am

    In one of the insurance companies I did some consulting work with, the operations area was huge (across some floors) and had 100s of people handling 1000s of forms everyday. Huge amounts of paper was moving and there were electronic systems to capture data and there were very jazzy monthly dashboards to report TATs and backlogs and performance for various teams.
    There was also huge pressure on improving productivity and not add headcount with increasing volumes.
    We were working in ops area and we saw that within ops, there were about 10 core processes and there were 34 teams working on them – most of the core processes went through several teams and it took days to close transactions.
    One of the initiatives we did with the ops head was that for each of the 34 teams we set up a large whiteboard with some templates and once every hour one of the team members had to go and input the # of apps received and # of apps processed. And update the cumulative volume chart for the day. This was done every hour.
    This one simple effort had a drastic impact on reducing variation between processing teams, improved flow from one team to another dramatically and people become much more sensitive to downstream and upstream work and their impact on those.
    But the big win was not this. When the SVP of Ops started seeing this, he would just pop in once a day at some time to see how things are going. He saw a great reduction in TAT and was so impressed that he would call Ops VPs and AVPs and discuss numbers in front of these boards – sometimes for hours, having a sandwich and coke.
    Slowly they started seeing that there was difference in flow of customer volume between those 10 core processes. This gave them ideas to explore multiskilling people intelligently with where there would be max impact.
    When they noticed the variation in flow every hour, the AVPs started aligning shifts and even their own working hours to the flow of volume – with this the backlogs disappeared.
    And whenever people saw there was accumulation of volume somewhere, managers would shift people around.
    Even head of sales started coming in occasionally and took back issues for sales people to handle (like they would all give their apps at the end of the day or too much volume on Mondays and last 4 days of the month)
    Now with operations running across some floors, a few big wigs said that maybe we should automate this reporting and that way we can have a common view across all floors and we can take “executive decisions” from our computers.
    While this had a lot of support, the SVP Ops and also the CIO shot down the idea. Their argument was that when numbers are being filled manually, people in the process are closer to the numbers. Managers feel the pulse of the process better and there is a positive apprehension every hour when people itch to take some action with the latest updates.
    If this becomes an electronic file and you see it in your room, you will not bother to come over to see and your response will become an e-mail with an order/ demand for answer rather than a discussion with the process people.
    This was one of the steps where management came close to where value was being created.
    I have already written a big note here but there is more to the story.

  4. Jon

    June 7, 2007 - 9:14 pm

    Wow. That is a powerful story. Thanks Rajdeep. I read something similar about what Wipro is doing. It’s this sort of management that will leave competitors in the dust.

  5. RC

    June 16, 2007 - 12:02 pm

    Just recently I quantify some lean ideas to implement Getting Management closer to the truth, we have top GM, Executives, Plant Coordinators etc, locked away in there rooms.
    My proposal was to delete all departments style structure, being it’s a Manufacturing Tool & Mould shop with design Capability. (A bit more history For you ) , departments go as such , 4 sales , 4 engineering PM’S, 16 designers, 6 surface modelers ,2 purchasing Mgt, 3 schedulers , 4 floor Tool Mold leaders & 50 tool helpers)
    Your early discussion with email and waste and no contact has put huge strains in our Company they think lean is dividing the design department in into cell groups a,b,c levels and having the head design handle in coming email about 400 per few days,
    My summary stated after removing all the groups in the whole company and making 2 in total consisting of
    2 pm’s, 7 designers, 3 surface modelers, 1 Tool leader and 20 tool helpers and 1 purchaser Mgt per group and put them together in one area instead of being spread over 150,000 square foot building.
    I would reduce 2 engineering managers, 2 tool leaders, and have 2 groups work together as a team eliminate email waiting department fighting, (blame) and build cross design team with manufacturing input with one program schedule to watch
    I believe my summary was correct; it’s very difficult to apply Lean to a custom Tool Build type system, I believe it’s our old German Style Hierarchy system, that’s a problem
    My summary stated the GM should be fired if he doesn’t head the lean program
    Going on 3 years now we just got thought 5S,
    PS I really believe that statement about hiring outside consultants so the inside person doesn’t get Fired is so are place.
    I’m frustrated, am I on the right track?
    I really like you web page for learning info .

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