Ask Gemba

Ask Gemba

By Jon Miller Published on January 3rd, 2009

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We want to make it easier to start conversations and find answers here at Gemba Panta Rei. You will see a number of changes to the blog design and functionality over 2009. It will be a series of small experiments. There is no master plan. We have a few ideas we will try. We are looking for input from people who value the information on this site – you.
As part of our ongoing commitment to expand knowledge and practice of kaizen, lean management and organizational development we are creating a section of our blog titled “Ask Gemba”. This is a very simple thing to do and it’s hard to say why it never occurred to us before… In a few weeks you will see a button for “Ask Gemba” but for now please ask in any comments section and we will put the questions in the right section.
Why do we need a special section for “Ask Gemba?”
We receive a lot of follow-up questions to blog articles posted months or even years ago. Sometimes my answers to these questions turn into full-blown blog entries so everyone can benefit from the insightful question. Other times I write brief responses directly under the reader’s question in the comment section. The problem with doing that is that the vast majority of readers have no way of knowing that a question has been asked or that an answer has been given, unless you are somehow following updates to comment sections of all articles. Others may be able to benefit from the conversations and learning that result from these question. In some cases you the readers will have better answers than me to these questions.
So it seems like it’s time to have a place to collect these “Ask Gemba” learning opportunities. Feel free to continue to post questions directly in the comment sections of current articles, or even in archived content from years past. What we will do is to pick up those questions and post them under the Ask Gemba section, along with answers or an invitation to you to contribute with your answers. If the question was in an archived article, we will put a link there to the answer in the Ask Gemba section.
For starters, yesterday a reader posed this question to an article in this blog from March 19, 2008.

Dear Sir,
thanks for the information about 5S. but i still need more. can you tell me about being good 5S auditor? because in my factory that i work, still hard to explain how good the result of 5S programs.

My answer to this question effective 5S auditing would be something to the effect of:

  1. Explain to people the difference between leading indicators and lagging indicators
  2. Productivity, defects, on-time delivery,safety performance are all lagging indicators
  3. The condition of 5S in the workplace is a leading indicator
  4. The 5S audit is an intervention to correct deteriorating conditions that will affect performance if left unchecked
  5. Be extremely specific in linking a 5S element score (poor 1S – Sort) with a concrete example (cable on the floor) with a resulting abnormality (someone trips over cable) and the resulting performance indicator (safety – lost time)

What do you think it takes to be a good 5S auditor? Not only do we want you to ask Gemba, we want to know your answer.

  1. Bas Timmermans

    January 5, 2009 - 10:40 am

    Hello Jon,
    I have a question about OEE and one piece flow cells. How would you best plan such a cell. Would you make an hour-by-hour chart based on the cycle time and plan only the hours needed, leaving some contingency time at the end of a shift for catching up the losses during that shift if any (representing OEE)? Or would you calculate the OEE into the takt time? From what I’ve read about Toyota I get the idea that they use overtime to compensate losses. Is that correct?
    I would appreciate your insights Jon, and I have found your blog a very good TPS resource indeed.
    Best regards, Bas Timmermans, Enrichment Technology, the Netherlands

  2. Brian Buck

    January 16, 2009 - 7:38 am

    Love this idea!
    ASK GEMBA QUESTION: In Understanding A3 Thinking: A Critical Component of Toyota’s PDCA Management System (Sobek/Smalley) it states the Toyota (and I am assuming Japanese) translation of STANDARD is more of a scientific comparison definition than how we think of the word as “a rule” or “prescribed way of doing things” (page 114).
    Does this translation expand to standardized work? My Western view of this definition is “This is how a process is done all the time by all people” involving the rest of the requirements for standardized work (takt time, etc).
    The book made me question my understanding of how we approach (and audit) standardized work.
    I appreciate all of your help with this.

  3. BJ Baker

    March 6, 2009 - 6:57 am

    I am in a bit of a quandary and was hoping that you could point me to some resources (either a person or book or otherwise). At this small facility we use Growth Power as our MRP system. It is a mess… we cannot trust any of our inventory counts and have a hard time getting all of the completed work reported. We are looking to implement another feature of GP that is supposed to help with our problems called Repetitive Manufacturing, but I am nervous about implementing any other bells and whistles when we cannot work with what we have.
    I have limited knowledge of the in’s and out’s of MRP systems, so I am definitely learning as I go. Do you know of any resources that would help me to accelerate my learning? Do you have any other advice on this problem?

  4. CILean

    March 11, 2009 - 2:49 am

    I have trouble with staff who appear generally supportive of improvement projects and agree with Senior Management on proposed actions but then fail to implement agreed changes and constantly come up with lame excuses. I don’t know whether they secretly don’t believe we can improve, although they have ample opportunity to speak candidly.
    Do I need more support from Senior Management or to be a little tougher with the ‘passive saboteurs’? It’s not just Lean that doesn’t get done, they don’t do work for Quality Management of Health and Safety either.
    If I need more support from my Senior Manager, how do I requests this without sounding like I’m blaming them for the failure of the project?
    Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

  5. Jon Miller

    March 16, 2009 - 11:51 pm

    Hi CILean,
    That is a tough one. Here is an attempt at an answer: Ask Gemba.

  6. Bas Timmermans

    April 2, 2009 - 12:15 pm

    Hello John,
    We are in the process of designing a synchronised flow process with an intermittent transportation system for a new assembly line. We have no buffer positions in the line, so it is critical that we organise support functions extremely well. An andon board is central to visualising line stops and signalling for support. Can you share your experience with ‘the nuts and bolts’ of such an andon-triggered support organisation? How does this work in practice in case of a line stop, who is triggered when by whom for what support? How are problems best escalated? How do you balance out immediate countermeasures and root cause corrective action?
    Bas Timmermans
    Enrichment Technology

  7. Roger Lampkin

    June 24, 2009 - 10:11 am

    I have an old Five S video from PHP, and during one of the sessions a company mentions their C70 program for efficiency improvement. They have each individual employee photographed and listed with their individual Five S, PM, and C70 goals. Does anyone know anything about C70 programs? I appreciate any feedback.
    Roger Lampkin

  8. Jon Miller

    June 24, 2009 - 2:56 pm

    Hi Roger
    I have never heard of C70. If the video was from 1970 it may have been an abbreviation of “Cost reduction ’70”. A few more hints such as the title of the video or the company featured might help.

  9. Sean

    July 16, 2009 - 5:02 am

    What are your favorite Kanban books? A general reference, and one or two more advanced ones would be a great starting point.

  10. Jon Miller

    July 16, 2009 - 6:39 am

    Hi Sean,
    There are quite a few books out there on kanban but their usefulness and depth of detail quite a bit. I would recommend the following three:
    Kanban for the Shop Floor from Productivity Press
    This is a compilation of kanban principles from various Japanese books and other sources. It provides a good quick, basic reference and makes a good attempt at being a practical guide. There are a few faults and inconsistencies in terminology (translation issues) but nothing egregious.
    Toyota Production System: An Integrated Approach to Just in Time
    This is a serious and scholarly work by Yasuhiro Monden and goes into enough depth in kanban and supporting systems to leave you reeling. I open the chapter on heijunka whenever I need to feel humble.
    Lean Logistics: The Nuts and Bolts of Delivering Materials and Goods
    If I had to recommend one book it would be this one. Michel Baudin does a great job of covering the broad topic of logistics while giving sufficiently space to kanban as well as the planning and logistics systems required to make it work. While not a hands-on guide, it is far more readable than Monden’s work. In parts the book goes into more depth than the beginner may be able to handle, but it is always insightful and invites you to learn more.

  11. Brian Buck

    July 27, 2009 - 9:25 am

    Can you please share with me your thoughts on implementing Lean? I had a client who asked why they can not instruct their team to just design one piece flow, kanbans, pull systems, and cells. The client says Toyota has proven it to work so why do we not just implement it?
    I coached on the basis of respect for people to allow the front line to create their workflow based on Lean principles instead of leadership telling them “how-to”. I advised an appropriate target is the outcome they want (short lead time, reduced waiting) and not a “go an do this” target. I also used Stephen Spear’s analogy of a football team with good players using best plays from other teams still failing because of lack of discipline. The client still does not seem convinced.
    Is the client’s approach a successful method (most Lean literature doesn’t support it)? Is the consulting model of requiring a problem to be solved getting in the way of Lean transformation?
    Is implementing one piece flow, kanbans, pull systems, and cells a good way to get people thinking lean? I have heard of acting your way to thinking.
    Any of your thoughts about this would be welcomed. Thank you.

  12. Joe Molesky

    July 28, 2009 - 9:20 am

    I am doing some research on demand segmentation and found some rather conflicting information from two credible resources. According to The Toyota Way Fieldbook when leveling production you produce High Volume products to stock while you make the Low Volume products to order. Then according to Ken Koenemann , Practice Leader, Lean Value Chain Practice for TBM Consulting Group, one would make Low Order Variability/High Volume and low variability/low volume products to demand while high variability/low volume and high variability/ high volume items are make to stock. Am I missing something because of the fact that the Toyota way does not take into account frequency between orders and only looks at volume? I think this would be a great post topic as smoothing is the base of the Toyota Production System but yet it there is some rather conflicting information out there.

  13. Jon Miller

    July 28, 2009 - 10:15 pm

    Hi Joe and Brian. Thanks for the good questions. I will take them up in a few days.

  14. john

    August 3, 2009 - 1:04 pm

    What is the difference between Takt Time and Takt Image?

  15. Sam Campbell

    August 6, 2009 - 3:13 am

    Following the TPS recommendations for Span of control my organisation has recently been working at developing a team based structure. To date, using change management and high levels of capability building for all levels we have had reasonable success in making the transaction. To effectively respond to problems one of our ultimate aims is to have functional support available at Gemba. This has , however, led to a great deal of resistance. Does anyone have any suggestions,models, or case studies we can consider to help make this transformation as smooth as possible?

  16. Ronak Shah

    August 12, 2009 - 12:46 am

    what should be ideal process flow for kaizen?
    What I mean is who can give their suggestions, how to evaluate kaizen event, Should we plan an event on monthly basis?

  17. Peter Köves

    August 20, 2009 - 4:45 am

    Dear Mr. Miller,
    when hiking in the countryside of South Limburg near the Dutch city of Maastricht, I stumbled upon this sign on the side of the path:
    The sign reads:
    “Watch out!
    Oak processionary caterpillar
    To prevent health troubles we advise you to observe the following ‘code of conduct’:
    – Don’t go standing under an oak tree or sitting in the grass under it.
    – Avoid touching the caterpillars, the nests and the tree trunk.
    – Avoid eye contact with the urticating hairs.
    – Provide good cover of the neck, arms and legs.
    – Look for treatment of discomforts in case of skin or eye contact on or ask your doctor.
    (Municipality of Valkenburg aan de Geul)”
    The suggestions on this sign are certainly reasonable. The problem is: The sign is place underneath an oak tree!
    I would to like to provide this sign and its problematic placement to initiate a discussion about how to provide a better warning against the health risks of the caterpiller (e.g. by better placing of the sign).
    Kind regards,
    Peter Köves

  18. Bruno Daniel

    September 10, 2009 - 9:25 am

    What is the meaning of Yosedome?

  19. Jon Miller

    September 10, 2009 - 4:09 pm

    Hi Bruno,
    I have never heard of yosedome. Where did you hear it?
    “yose” can mean “put near” from Japanese “yoseru” and “dome” can be “stopper” or “thing which stops” from Japanese “tomeru” but I have never heard the two used in this combination.
    “Something to stop something from coming near” is a possible meaning. If there was a quality non-conformance that had to do with things being too close, too tight or being brought too near, then a “yosedome” could be an error proofing device to stop this I suppose.
    It may not be Japanese.

  20. Ed

    September 16, 2009 - 7:12 am

    I am a recently graduated industrial engineer and was tasked by my manufacturing manager with creating a value stream map of an entire grinding section at my bearing assembly plant. A big problem I am running into is the vast quantities of different sized rings we process and their varying cycle times and changeover times. Also, the flow of the rings through the operations is not standardized, so the quantity and wait time of the WIP between operations varies dramatically from batch to batch and job to job.
    This makes me regress to thinking about what the point of a value stream map is: to show where the waste, value, and non-value is in the system. But our system is not standardized or in control. I feel that even if I followed a few pieces and collected times on WIP and cycle times, it wouldn’t matter because that data will vary greatly every time the job is run.
    My question is this: are there any criteria that need to be met before creating a value stream map, e.g. standardization, process control? I am new to this field and perhaps this is a usual issue at manufacturing plants implementing lean.

  21. shaikh

    September 18, 2009 - 2:36 am


  22. Bas Timmermans

    October 19, 2009 - 7:34 am

    Hi Jon,
    I sent in some questions before around one piece flow cells. As we are learning more, another topic is coming up. In a one piece flow cell that is fully loaded with customer demand, how can new people be trained, without creating significant flow problems? Operators are moving with the work from station to station, so when deploying a new employee to the line, the total output is suffering until the employee has progressed on the learning curve. How are lean companies dealing with this issue?
    Best regards, Bas Timmermans, Enrichment Technology

  23. Graham

    November 24, 2009 - 4:15 pm

    My background is high volume automotive production like Ford. I am now involved with static build production of HVAC units. How do I best apply stop the line methods with static builds? ie no line to stop.

  24. Alexandria

    December 5, 2009 - 9:15 am

    I would like permission to use one of your images on my website. Can you tell me who owns copyright of the image please and how is best to go about this?
    Many thanks,

  25. Jon Miller

    December 5, 2009 - 2:06 pm

    Hi Xandria
    We cannot give you permission to use this image because it is a stock photo we purchased and we are not the copyright holder. Unfortunately I don’t recall the source of the photo.

  26. Rick

    December 15, 2009 - 8:11 am

    How would you describe the responsibilities, agenda, and actions of a lean steering committee comprised of senior management? Thanks

  27. Ian

    January 18, 2010 - 4:39 pm

    In response to Bruno:- Yosedome is basically the consolidation of operations or processes to more closely match actual demand. In Toyota, we use it as a principle to reduce cost during periods of low volume or when customer demand is less than capacity. It literally means ‘stopping of processes to match demand’.
    A couple of examples :- In our casting plant we have 6 casting machines which gives us a minimum cycle time of 50 seconds. If volume decreases we will only run 5 or 4 or 3 machines to more closely match demand – we’ll stop the other machines.
    Another example would be to modify an assembly line to take multiple model types so that we could run the reduced volume down one line as opposed to running two.
    Yosedome is closely linked to energy reduction activity – the concept of stopping processes that are not needed.
    Hope this helps

  28. Jule

    February 10, 2010 - 6:03 am

    How could I use the lean tools and principles in a company that produces just customized products with big leadtimes and very high demand variability?

  29. Feed Mester

    February 16, 2010 - 8:33 am

    Hey why don’t you post stuff on Toyota’s Recalls? How about an article like “Why Kaizen is killing people….Toyota’s shameful accelerators and break debacles”.

  30. faisal

    February 16, 2010 - 10:07 pm

    what are different muda in printing press or newspaper printing factories.

  31. Paul Collins

    March 11, 2010 - 3:10 am

    HELP! My company has been “attempting” 5s for several years now,and have recently begun rolling it out once again after stopping it a few years back. My problem is this: We seem totally focused on painting everything from walls to floors, and thought this may look pretty, this isn’t my understanding of a full 5s.Brainstorming isn’t done properly so I see lot’s of errors in processes etc. S.O.Ps aren’t done yet management tell me we’re doing well because the place looks nice. I thought 5s was about eliminating waste and improving efficiency and quality? maybe i’m missing something? ps I work in a distribution centre not manufacturing if that helps.

  32. Tina Aggarwal

    March 25, 2010 - 3:35 am

    I am very impressed with your blog which has some amazing posts covering on Lean Manufacturing.
    I am the community manager for TooStep and and thought it would be great to have you people in my TooStep community. Our community members communicate, share and network on different issues pertaining to Lean Manufacturing.
    Title: Lean Manufacturing.
    And if your blog audience will benefit from this, please add the above link to your website. I could also offer help from my community to promote or discuss around your content.
    I look forward to this partnership. Do provide your feedback.
    Tina Aggarwal
    Community Manager, TooStep

  33. ajay

    April 4, 2010 - 8:04 am

    when we calculate manpower from the formula on tha basis of monthly production plan ,where no. shifts come in points like 0.3,0.6 etc. & accordingly manpower comes in points also like 0.2,0.6,0.3, inthis case how to manage the line , manpower depolyment on the line according to no. of shifts, pls. help in this matter

  34. David Schmieder

    April 13, 2010 - 11:41 am

    First I would like to say I enjoy your Blog very much and keep up the good work!!! Second is I’m having a difficult time coming up with a tracking method for our 5’s program. We are runnign a program with a scoring value but no real tracking method. Any suggestions?
    Thank You,
    David Schmieder A.M.S

  35. Bala

    June 10, 2010 - 8:44 pm

    What is the meaning of “Daily build sequence based on customer order” and “production of most parts occurs daily”? What is the advantages if follow this?

  36. pcunningham

    June 16, 2010 - 2:06 pm

    What is a storefront and how can it help my lean manufacturing system be more flexible?

  37. Bas Timmermans

    June 30, 2010 - 12:19 pm

    Hi John,
    I am a big fan of your blog and also a lean enthusiast, whom you have helped on some occasions by addressing important topics here. I was just exposed to a video about our ‘modern’ food system ( particularly the video titled Sissy Farmer on forgiveness) and it occurred to me how unlean this whole chain of activity from growing to eating really is and how much negative impact there is all around as a result of that. I am wondering what your view on this issue is.
    High regards, Bas Timmermans (Netherlands)

  38. Rouwel M. Jaque

    July 6, 2010 - 10:16 am

    How could you instill/imbibe into the minds of the employees the “Lean Thinking”? Where would you start?

  39. Chris

    July 23, 2010 - 10:15 am

    I’m having a meeting this week with people from my company on creating kits for purchased material so that parts from a vendor are ordered as a kit instead of individually in larger batches. Do you have a list of pros and cons to using kits or know of any articles or websites I can visit to learn more about the pros and cons of using kits?

  40. faisal

    August 16, 2010 - 8:59 am

    What if a company mfrs. large component like machine Industrial A/c Unit, table size machine., Can we transform this mfg process in conveyor belt assembly, And if currently only single worker is assembling single Unit and it takes almost 1 hour to assembly the whole unit. Can we have all worker assembly one single unit at the same time.?

  41. Juan Plaza

    August 24, 2010 - 9:03 am

    we have a blog related with lean management in Spanish,
    We have add your blog to our blogroll because we enjoy it a lot.
    Feel free to add our blog to your blog roll if you think so.
    Thank you very much!!!

  42. reiv x

    October 1, 2010 - 1:19 am

    My question is about management and how a lean transformation could be driven. Actually, we had started lean since 2007 in the factory with a “sensei” at the top management of the company. I was named lean facilitator (no official authority), my mission was just to be “the oil in the engine” (to resume). Lean is always alive today! But it’s very difficult to maintain because of a poor discipline of the middle management. The boss of the factory hasn’t a really “lean experience” and I have to support lean every time. I’ve never be really the “oil” but I had to be the “engine” to make lean initiatives survive… Today this “sensei” has another position in the company (group level) and my question is what position in the factory must I have to keep it right? My boss propose me to take a new position: have authority on the middle management to be sure that lean can go faster and further. Can a lean transformation continue if there is no facilitator man who is in charge full time? Can I drive lean seriously if I take authority over production? What is your opinion about that?
    Many thanks
    Sorry for my poor language, I’m French

  43. Sam Korb

    December 11, 2010 - 8:57 am

    Hi guys-
    I don’t know how closely you’ve been following Paul Aker’s radio show (The American Innovator), but he’s currently running an informal poll on the show to determine whether or not he should continue broadcasting starting in January.
    I know that you guys have worked closely with Paul and that he credits you guys for a lot of the great things he’s done at Fastcap, so I don’t need to explain who he is or how much positive energy he exudes about Lean.
    Paul has said that unless he gets another 800 “votes” to stay on the air, which can be a text message, e-mail, or phone call, bringing him to his target of 1000 votes, he’s going to quit doing the show and go skiing.
    I think it would be a great loss to the Lean community if we lose his show. If you share even some of that sentiment, then perhaps you could write this up on your blog, and give people the details about how to vote (if you want, I can send you those details) as well as encourage them to do so.
    Thanks for your time, and I hope that you do end up writing something up.
    Sam Korb

  44. Sue Harrell

    April 14, 2011 - 1:39 pm

    Hi Jon – I especially like your article, “The Will, the Willow and the Frog” (May 2, 2010). It holds some personal meaning for me, and I would like to know if you would grant me permission to reprint it in my blog (with credit reference to you and to Gemba/Kaizen Institute). Thank you for your consideration.

  45. Ronak Shah

    August 24, 2011 - 1:28 am

    Why is change always resisted….??

  46. Bas Timmermans

    November 25, 2011 - 1:30 am

    Hi Jon,
    Over the years I have had some difficulty to help people really understand what it means to be process rather than results oriented. Even though a lot people say they get it, their daily behaviour suggests otherwise. Most people easily abandon a standard when they experience some problems and create individual work arounds, or simply deviate from the standard because they perceive it to be a better way for them personally. What I am thinking about and looking for is a powerfull way to help people discover for themselves (maybe in a game or excercise) how process or result oriented they really are and what the consequences are. I’d like to use this in a training setting with small groups. Have you come across any such powerfull learning tools?
    Best regards, Bas

  47. Mohamed

    January 10, 2012 - 4:55 am

    I want to ask for the difference between “Cycle time and process time”?
    If I working for the filling process and I’ve 4 nozels to fill at the same time and it takes 10 sec. to complete filling at the same time for the 4 bottels, so please I want to know what is the cycle time that I should post in the VSM and as well what is the process time and cycle time for this process? thanks for your time.

  48. Jon Miller

    January 12, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    Hi Mohamed
    There is some overlap and disagreement about definitions of cycle time, lead time, process time etc. Confusingly, some value steam maps also use PCT or process cycle time.
    In your example the cycle for the purpose of VSM would be the time per piece. The process time would be from start to start. So if you divide process time by 4 you will get cycle time per piece.
    However, I have seen this explained in exactly the opposite way also. The important thing is to agree on a set of definitions and formulas.

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