Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Go to the Source

In Lean, a key practice is one called "Go to the Gemba". Here's a brief description according to Wikipedia:

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning "the place where the truth can be found." Others may call it "the value proposition."

A Gemba visit is often simply called a customer visit. The hallmarks that make it uniquely useful are:
1) The purpose is firstly to observe, occasionally to question, rarely to guide or direct.
2) The visit occurs in the context where the product or service is used, which allows direct observation of problems that arise, workarounds that are applied, and capabilities or services that are never used.
3) Sometimes the customer (or client or user) is asked to describe what he is doing while he is doing it; this provides insight into the thought processes, which often reveal differences between the customer's mental model and the model of the developers or providers of the product or service.
4) The customer will often express wishes or needs while working in context that would be forgotten or suppressed in a different context such as a structured interview or sales meeting.

Common cases for a customer visit include:
1) Enhancing the features or usability of products (especially software) or devices (especially ones aimed at very broad or very niche consumers).
2) Improving processes or tools.

I think this describes the primary use of this practice, but I can see other uses as well. Here are some other sources that should be considered as a manager:

Individual Worker - Look at each person. Do they have a significant role? Do they understand their role? Have they developed the right skills for the role? As a manager, it is your job to ensure that each person understands their purpose in the organization. It is also your job to encourage that person to continually improve how they do their work as well as increase their value to the organization. Management should make sure that the culture is such that each individual once they understand their role, have autonomy to improve it as they see fit.

Development Team - How is the team functioning? Are the processes and tools supporting the team or getting in the way? Are they communicating well? Working well together? It is crucial that the team are working in a way that work flows smoothly, there is little or no waste and everything the team does goes towards providing value to the customer.

Management - Does your management style support Lean? Do you understand what Lean is all about? Are you establishing a culture that compliments Lean? Are you a champion of Lean? Are you helping others understand it? As a manager, you need to be the experts of Lean and do all you can to understand what it takes for an organization to become Lean. If things are falling apart because people don't understand what they are doing or have gone back to their old ways, it is up to managers to educate and instill the self-discipline each person needs to have to make it successful.

This is an area that we are still struggling with but realize that it is critical to our success moving towards a Lean organization. We must "Go to the Gemba" and find the problems (and solutions) where the root source is to properly address. Otherwise, we are making a lot of assumptions that may not prove accurate. As the old saying goes, "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me." It's important to base decisions on real facts than assumptions. Going to the source will get you to the right place to identify the facts. It's then up to you to figure our fact from fiction.

No comments: