What You Find on the Floor Tells You a Lot

By Jon Miller Published on May 15th, 2008

Look down and pay attention to what is on the floor you walk on, the next time you walk the floor. What you find on the floor tells you a lot about what kind of thinking you will find on the floor, carpeted or concrete. Most of us look at what is between the walls, floor and ceiling when we go to the gemba. But we need to look door-to-door, ceiling to floor. What you find might include some of these signs of a weak awareness of lean management principles.
Cables. These are tripping hazards, or worse if cut or tangled in moving equipment. You would be surprised how far up the OEE loss time root cause Pareto the “cut power cable” can be found.
Trash. It shouldn’t be there. There are at least three opportunities to take care of trash before it ends up on the floor: 1) build a trash receptacle into the process that generates it, 2) have everyone pick up every piece of trash every day on the way to and from breaks, 3) or don’t generate trash in the first place. Zero land-fill and zero emission workplaces have been a reality for nearly a decade, if not longer.

Parts or materials placed directly on the floor.
It’s surprising how often we see this, and how little it seems to bother people. If the floor was otherwise spic and span, that’s one thing but it’s not. It’s particularly true of large parts or materials that are awkward to handle. Using pallets is a half step up, and home-built carts suited for the job are closer to the ideal, particularly when some or all of the work can be done on these carts. Ideally we should move materials from process to process without needing to flop them on the floor in between operations.
Anything not on wheels. Question anything that is not on wheels. Ask the five whys. Aim to have everything on wheels in less than 2 years. For discrete manufacturing and service businesses most things can be on wheels within 2 years, much of that within the first 9 months.
Paint. What condition is it in? What colors are used, and for what purpose? If the office or service environment floors are wood, carpet or other finished material that is not to be painted, look for lines, colors, and other visual indicators on the floor.
Standards and small parts. Collect these. Display them prominently with the quantity found of each type during a duration, such as a week. Keep doing this until fewer things are found on the floor.
Lack of Ohno circles. Why? Pick a spot and pull out the sidewalk chalk. It’s the easiest thing to do. Stand and observe as a regular part of the leader’s role of checking that work is proceeding to standard and coaching junior leaders in how to detect and correct abnormalities.
I’ve seen much stranger things on the floor, but we’ll leave that for another day.

  1. Andy Wagner

    May 16, 2008 - 7:51 am

    Anything not on wheels? I work in a precision machining environment. We certainly have a lot of things without wheels that should, and I’d love to be able to move machines around with the freedom wheels provide, but certainly there are some limitations.

  2. Walt Rostykus

    May 16, 2008 - 11:28 am

    While you’re on the floor, why not take a look at how your people are completing tasks. Observing your people reaching, bending, and moving outside of their comfort ranges means the workspace is not as productive as it could be. Where this “wasted motion” exists, you’re sure to find more signs of a weak awareness of lean management principles.

  3. Jon Miller

    May 16, 2008 - 10:50 pm

    Great suggestion Walt. Welcome to this blog.
    Jonathan, the only reason we machine things on huge CNC machines is because we choose to do so. It’s possible to design these operations using smaller machines that can be placed on wheels. If not wheels, we can use air cushions to move them as needed, by the same thinking.

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