Tips for Lean Managers

Q&A During a Recent Gemba Walk

By Jon Miller Published on July 13th, 2007

Gemba walks are great fun. But it’s become clearer to me only recently that they can be awkward at first to the leader in transition from traditional style to Lean management. With permission and without revealing the identity of the leader (Mr. C), here is an excerpt from his questions and my answers during a recent gemba walk.
Stand in the Circle
Wearing our protective equipment, we walked into the gemba.
Q: “What route should we take on our gemba walk?”
A: “Let’s stand here for a while.”
A few minutes of silence passed. Mr. C became restless and wanted to know what we were doing. I explained. After 30 minutes, 30 observations and 15 minutes spent taking care of several of the items on his list, Mr. C said “Now I see.”

Become a Teacher

We continued our gemba walk.
Q: “How do I convince people to come along on this journey?”
A: “How did you teach your son to read?”
Even though a young child’s brain will learn to read more rapidly than an adult brain, the need for purpose in learning, daily repetition, and persistence and patience by the teacher is the same.
Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick One
Q: “What will it take to make kaizen a way of life for my people in 12 months?”
A: “A one-year Lean transformation is lightning fast. How many other projects are you willing to put on hold?”
There is a lot of education that is required to rewire people’s brains to think and do kaizen all of the time. This is both in terms of awareness of waste and in terms of practice in doing kaizen. Not only that, many existing projects at many companies take up resources but are not supporting Lean directly (building warehouses, implementing push ERP systems, rolling out bad performance metrics). At worst these should be paused, and at best redesigned to support Lean. Too often these are “moving trains” that can’t be stopped, so kaizen as a way of life takes longer to achieve.
Just Add “Why?”
Q: “What performance metrics will help me lead Lean more effectively?”
A: “Keep the performance metrics you have, for now. Ask ‘why?’ performance was met or not met, and keep asking ‘why?’ until you find the root cause for the performance gap. It may be the performance metric itself that is the problem.”
“Why?” may be the most powerful two syllables in the English language.
Respect for People
Q: “What is the most important thing I should do as a leader during my gemba walks?”
A: “Smile, greet everyone heartily by name, every day.”
Mr. C looked puzzled, then simply said “Okay.” He should have asked “Why?” Perhaps he had enough to think about for one day.

  1. Alberto

    July 18, 2007 - 1:04 pm

    You should also tell Mr. C that is VERY important to take a notebook along in the gemba walk… ideas are never good when they stay in your head you can forget them, like i say for poka-yokes ” Never underestimate the human being’s ignorance ”
    Notebook ->Kaizen Newspaper -> Actions…

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