Posts Tagged gemba

Effective Lean Leaders Provide Sufficient Tools. Cheapskates Do Not.

During a recent business trip to Mexico, I spied a hotel worker using the tools captured in the picture. While there is definitely some creativity applied in the development of the tools, the twig broom (or is that a rake?) clearly is not sufficient – lots of motion required, but much of it wasted.

This same thing happens way too often in other gemba locations. Insufficient tools, and often just the plain LACK of tools, get in the way of performance.

The four-fold improvement objective is first, easier, then better, faster, and cheaper. Short-sighted leaders often think they can jump to cheaper by being cheapskates when it comes to basic tools for the job. Among other things, this belies a lack of respect for the employee. Maybe they need to “walk a mile” in their employees’ shoes…or at least  directly observe reality at the gemba!?

Just to be clear, here we’re talking about pragmatic tools, not overbuilt, gold-plated tools with unnecessary features and performance levels. And yes, as the saying goes, we must always, “reach for our brain, before our wallets.” But, workers need sufficient tools that: 1) protect them from ergonomic stress and trauma, 2) are capable of producing sufficient repeatable outcomes, and 3) support the least waste way, as captured within good standard work.

I’ve run into my share of “bad brooms,” as in the picture. Like the homemade knives that the operators made in order to cut foam. Their knives were basically pieces of scrap metal, with tape wrapped around one end for the handle. No knife looked the same. Many made ragged cuts. A lot were unsafe. Could management have done a better job?

How about the leaders who resist buying the required hand tools and storing them, at the behest of engaged employees, at a point-of-use shadow board for a routine set-up? The tools will get lost or stolen, anyway, why bother? Meanwhile, operators constantly venture out on long, time-consuming safaris to go find the required tools (yes, I know tool-less set-ups are the target condition…). Not easier, and certainly not least way.

We could go on. I am sure that you have countless examples from your gemba.

The scary thing is that workers in such situations get numb to the waste that their cheapskate leaders have helped create and sustain. Penny-wise, pound foolish environments are death to the kaizen spirit.

Don’t be a cheapskate.

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

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Guest Post: Going to the Gemba with Grandma

Being tech support over the phone is a difficult job, being tech support for my 87 yr old grandmother (Mimi) and her TV remote should qualify me for sainthood.

A few years ago I got a tech support call from Mimi on my drive home from work. Trouble with the remote again, the batteries both fell out and she wasn’t sure in what direction they should go back in.

Having a point of reference to verbally describe orientation was impossible. Her eyesight was poor and the remote didn’t have the (+) and (-) displayed very well. Instead of springs on the (-) end in the remote there were just slightly raised clips, so no help there.

Next, I pulled over to the side of the road for a 35 minute chat about changing them 180 degrees and trying different battery configurations. Finally, she said that the batteries might be dead anyway. The remote had been burning through batteries.

A remote that is draining the batteries constantly? Hmm…something didn’t sound right, so I decided it was time to go to the gemba with grandma.

Normally, when I visited her we played cribbage, but this time we were going to do some TV watching and gather some info.

She said she had been replacing the batteries about every 2 weeks because they kept dying on her. After replacing them, the remote would work for a short while and then have more problems and she would just change them again.

I tried using the remote and didn’t have any issues. She gave me a dirty look and said, “That’s all well and good until I need to watch The Days of Our Lives and then it won’t work, mark my words”

Then suddenly it happened.  The remote didn’t work for her. “Oh fiddle sticks there it goes again.” NOTE: Fiddle sticks is a curse word in the Mimi dictionary.

I saw something that I would never have discovered if I hadn’t gone to the gemba.

Mimi had arthritis which made her joints very sore.  It also made the pointer finger on her right hand crooked to almost a 90 degree angle.

When she tried to change channels or hit the buttons sometimes that crooked finger would block the Infra Red beam that would send the signal to the TV.  It was a user issue.

The solutions were simple.

Mimi had to remind herself to keep her finger out of the way and I put 2 fresh batteries in the remote and taped it shut so they wouldn’t fall out.

She never had trouble with the remote again and we played cribbage 3-4 times a week for almost two years till she passed away.  The new batteries actually outlasted her…I think she would have enjoyed knowing that.

This post was authored by Jon Wetzel, creator of the Lean for Everyone Blog where he posts about the uses of lean concepts in everyday life.  Jon has 16 years worth of experience in startup biotech, invented the scented pen, and balloon sculptures for fun.  He is also certified in Lean, a Six Sigma Black Belt, a member of the Michigan Lean Consortium and runs his own consulting company – Lean for Everyone.  Jon can be contacted via e-mail at


CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation

CSI picTaiichi Ohno preferred facts over data, meaning, among other things, that direct observation trumps second hand stuff. How else can you truly grasp the current situation and identify the waste?

Well, the fact of the matter is that direct observation is not always practical. Sometimes it needs to be supplemented with what I call forensic observation. For example, if we need to gain an understanding of the pre-kaizen situation for a REALLY long lead time process, say weeks or months or even years, it’s not very pragmatic to grab some time observation forms, stopwatches, spaghetti charts, etc. and…camp out.

No. Long lead time processes, such as bodily injury insurance claim evaluation or complex business proposal development, often should be subjected to the rigor of  process mapping. These process maps detail the historically and forensically based steps, hand-offs, rework, waiting, etc. as supported by emails, documents, system entries, recorded phone conversations and the like for specific, real-life claims, files, proposals, design projects and so on.

It’s a bit like CSI, but without real blood. It’s a pragmatic proxy for going to the gemba and it can be bolstered with true direct observation for specific steps within the process. For example, we can directly observe how design requirements are identified from the request for proposal (as part of the overall proposal generation process).

Now, this is not a license for dismissing direct observation (and it’s not a replacement for appropriate value stream analysis). But, given the right circumstances, forensic observation can be an appropriate way to apply gemba-based principles to your kaizen activity.

So, how have you applied forensic observation within your lean journey?

Related posts: The Truth Will Set You Free!, Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes

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