Get Out of Here with that Stop Watch!

By Jon Miller Published on September 29th, 2008

Mike Wroblewski brought back more than a kimono from his benchmarking trip to Japan. His souvenir was of far greater value. In Japanese it is called the spirit of wa, or harmony. There is a great real life story on Mike’s Got Boondoggle? blog where he models the ideal behavior of a lean leader. Many of us who practice kaizen have had the experience of eagerly going out to the gemba to observe, time or map a process with the full intention of making it better. Some of us have had the experience of being watched, time, mapped and critiqued. How do we like it?
I can still remember from a decade ago the expressions of horror on the faces of the kaizen team members when the stop watch came out of my naive pocket while on the shop floor of an aerospace company in the Northeastern part of the U.S. There was an almost unmentionable degree of union-management friction at this company, just beneath the surface, somehow kept secret from (or by) the people who had convinced us to spend a week there helping to solve delivery problems. Stop watches were as rare on the shop floor as were senior management, for a reason. We weren’t able to handle that situation as smoothly as Mike did on his value stream mapping project.
Most of us wouldn’t hunt on other people’s land without permission, or pick the corn from a field you didn’t own, or walk into a stranger’s house and use the telephone. How different is that from acknowledging that the space where many people spend a third of more of their adult lives – the workplace -deserves equal deference? We should show the respect for the people whose workplace we are stepping into with the intention of picking the corn. Take the time to communicate and connect person to person so that stopwatches and the ideas they represent are less of a threat. There is never a bad harvest or unsuccessful hunt in the field of ideas if we live in harmony with it.

  1. Chris Nicholls

    October 2, 2008 - 3:17 pm

    Dear Jon
    Thanks for the latest set of posts on your Blog they are all very interesting and inspiring. In the case of this subject of using stop watches in the Gemba. I found that getting the operators timing their own processes themselves was key to getting them to buy in to “Working Smarter not Harder”. This slogan was used to promote the introduction of our process time reduction initiative through the elimination of “Unnecessary Motion” Muda here at Ricoh in the UK.
    We trained our assembly operators to do some timings off the job using a very simple assembly simulation task. We then let them experiment with identifying and eliminating the 12 motion mudas. After a number of PDCA cycles they retimed themselves and found that they could easily reduce their process time by 50% without working any harder.
    When they went back to the Gemba they readily adopted what they had learned off the job and improved their own work processes and used stop watches without any fear, improving and setting their own targets. The number of improvement ideas generated by these operators increased 10 fold after they learned about the Unnecessary Motion Muda and using a stop watch.The ultimate pay off was a 50% reduction in process time.
    Thanks & Regards

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