Going to Gemba Isn’t Sufficient

By Ron Pereira Updated on November 8th, 2021

As I’ve mentioned before I’m one of several coaches for a high school football team here in Texas. Like just about every other high school football team (and many middle school teams) we film every game and carefully dissect each and every play with detailed notes for the players to review.

Quickly Identify Abnormalities

What’s especially interesting about this process is how easy it is to spot abnormalities on film. For example, when an offensive end doesn’t seal the edge during a running play it jumps right out when you slowly watch the play frame by frame.

On the other hand, during the actual game, it’s not always easy to spot these issues. If a defender bursts through the line of scrimmage it’s not uncommon for coaches to yell “where did that guy come from…who had him?!”

To counter this issue we now have JV players (who may not play in the varsity game) film every play from field level with an iPad which allows coaches to quickly watch the playback right after it happens. We don’t use this iPad footage for the “official” film study…but it really helps during the game. To be sure, without film study we’d be at a huge disadvantage.

Lean Thinking Video Use

And while the video camera has long been used for lean thinking activities like SMED / Quick Changeover I personally feel it’s an underutilized tool. We often speak about going to gemba, or the place the work is done, in order to see what’s happening. And, make no mistake, this is crucial. But, I dare say, simply going to gemba isn’t sufficient.

When we’re trying to study the movement of people and equipment using video is extremely effective. You and your team are able to sit back, and really study, what’s happening frame by frame. And if trimming minutes, or even seconds, from a process is important, breaking down the film in order to identify things like the wastes of motion and transportation will almost certainly add value.

Beware of Danger

And while video is powerful…it’s also potentially dangerous to your lean thinking efforts. When people feel like they’re being watched, or judged, or asked “to go faster,” the stress hormone cortisol will flood their bodies. Not good.

So, the worst thing, I repeat worst thing, you can do is simply run out to gemba and start filming people with your smartphone. In some countries this is illegal…and everywhere else it’s just a bad idea. A better approach is to follow this 3-step process:

  1. Communicate that the purpose of filming is to study the process in order to make the work safer and easier to do. Explain it’s not to simply make people work harder or faster.
  2. Ask the folks doing the actual work to film one another instead of someone who may not be familiar. This typically reduces the stress levels of everyone involved.
  3. Involve the people being filmed during the “film breakdown” study. They will typically have the best ideas for how to make things better plus it’s the respectful thing to do.

I’d be curious to hear in the comments below, or on LinkedIn, if you have used, or currently use, video to study and improve your processes. What’s worked well? What have you learned?

  1. Rodney Robbins

    November 8, 2021 - 3:27 pm

    I had a very strange experience using video for a SMED activity. Before we got started, I explained to everyone what we were doing and why. I reassured the operators that we were trying to make the work flow easier, rather than trying to make them go faster. I had the team leader deeply involved in taking and reviewing the videos. Even after watching and timing multiple videos of him and his team doing the work, the team leader insisted that our times from the video were not accurate. One part of the job was filmed on three different occasions with an average of 4.5 minutes per changeover and a range of +/- 30 seconds. The team leader insisted that the task took way longer than that “in the real world.” Even when he looked right at the videos, agreed with the times “in theory,” and saw with his own eyes that most of the lost time during a changeover came from operators doing non-value added activities while the machine was down, he still wouldn’t not accept the evidence of his own eyes. Hard to fathom.

  2. Johnny Piela

    November 10, 2021 - 1:18 pm

    I thought this was a super interesting read. I am currently taking a class on lean thinking and a very largefocus is placed on the gemba walk. However, in my previous experiences with sports, I agree with what you said about how there are things you just miss out on when you’re in the moment. Your eyes can’t see everything, and you can’t perfectly rewind a moment that you saw like you can with a camera to really break down what exactly happened in that moment. I also agree with what you said about how to approach filming workers during process, as it is a very delicate issue especially in these times. People don’t like to be filmed when they are doing nothing, so they would most definitely be anxious if they thought thy were being filmed purely for performance purposes. Good communication between the workers and management is required for filming to be a value added process.

  3. Kim Poulsen

    January 10, 2022 - 7:00 am

    In a manufacturing environment, lots of waste can be observed on Machine motion as well. We take video of our bottleneck equipment and study the interconnected motion of the machine to find cycle time or micro-stop which can be modified by moving sensors, reducing stroke of cylinders, reprogramming robots, or by optimizing the PLC program. The awesome thing on these optimizations is that you gain productivity by the machines which can be an untapped potential. With fast paced machine movements it is close to impossible to detect losses even with a trained eye, and here the video. Try it out

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