The Essence of Shop Floor Management

Chris Schrandt is a Gemba guy from Toyota who has wealth of experience in quality management and TPS. He had several great quotes during a problem solving class today, and this one about exposing problems struck me as particularly worth sharing:
“If you have to ask, you don’t have shop floor management.”

This sounded like the essence of a shop floor management. By “shop floor” we mean “gemba” in a general sense, though Chris today was speaking of the factory floor. To expand on the quote by Chris some more, we can say that the essence of shop floor management has five components:

1) Visualize. Design work flows and working space so that there are minimal barriers to material an information flow. This means to make the status visible. Problems are what you want to see. Seeing that “everything is OK” can be a sign of low problem awareness, a problem in itself.

2) Go see. Now that you’ve made it visible, make a habit of going to see the status on the gemba. This is important because the daily demands of being a business leader have a tendency to take you away from the gemba, or to give you the illusion that you can manage while being away from the gemba for a long period of time.

3) Teach people. Teach people to see what you see. This is not only a question of where to look and what to look for, but how to see. Teach them to see problems in such a way that they take ownership of the act of problem solving, and continue to see problems in your absence.

4) Solve problems. Direct problem solving should be the last resort of the shop floor manager. Removing barriers preventing others to solve problems is fair game. If you must solve problems, let them be the largest problems which have the smallest learning potential for your subordinates.

5) Envision. This means to develop your own image of the target condition in your mind. By being able to “see” in your mind a target condition that is better than today, you can return to step one and visualize this for others.

Too often we get this backwards, going 5 to 1 by developing a vision first, getting elbow-deep in problem solving, doing a mediocre job of teaching the next level of leaders, possibly not going to see at all, and as a result creating a sense that any visuals on the shop floor are theoretical rather than practical.

Taiichi Ohno’s workplace management (gemba keiei) is shop floor management. Rephrasing Taiichi Ohno, “There is a correct sequence to shop floor management” and it begins and ends with making things visible.