Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Management By Standing Still

Early in my management career, the hot management technique was something called Management By Walking Around (MBWA). Basically, a good concept for the times since management rarely, if ever, got out of their comfort zone of the office and connected with what was actually happening at gemba (the actual place), on the shop floor. Some may argue the point that disconnected leadership, never-leaving-the-office types, still exists today and I would agree. However, at least a few company leaders saw some value to venture out to the shop floor and found gemba.

Did this technique work? I think it resulted in only a marginal improvement at best. Management learned how to find the shop floor but ended up not “walking around” but “walking through”. After a brisk walk through and an occasional stop to chat, they quickly got back to work in the office. It turned into an exercise of “being seen” then “to see”. Yes, there are some positive results that can be found in just being seen and showing a genuine interest in activities at gemba. But what you end up with is a mere snap shot of gemba when you could see a movie clip. From my lean prospective, you miss out on a great opportunity to “go to the actual place and see for understanding” (Genchi Genbutsu).

To seek understanding, we need to move away from Management By Walking Around to Management By Standing Still. Of course, this technique can be directly linked to the famous “Ohno Circle”, a circle drawn by Taiichi Ohno on the Toyota shop floor for engineers to stand in for hours on end “to see and understand”.

Yes, it takes a strong commitment to “stand still” at gemba and many may not feel comfortable to just stand and watch at first. This uneasy feeling quickly disappears the longer you stand still. It is amazing what you learn about your processes by seeing for yourself when standing still long enough. Don’t rely on assumptions on what you see, ask many questions. Take a small pocket notebook and pen with you to record your findings, thoughts, questions and ideas. I use this technique quite often with exceptional results. So next time you go to gemba, try thinking movies not snap shots.

6 comments:

AggieIE said...

When I came to work for my current employer, I introduced the line managers to gemba by scheduling meetings out on the floor rather than the conference rooms. Such a simple concept has produced tremendous results, and still does today.

Craig said...

My company still promotes MBWA as a way to improve productivity. I think in an office environment this can actually lead to a reduction in productivity since every time my manager pokes his head in my cubicle I have to break my chain of thought and talk for a few minutes before returning to the task and trying to reintegrate myself into the work. Between MBWA and unecessary meetings I bet I lose 20-30% of my productive time daily.

Jon Miller said...

Craig,

Probably not the answer you were looking for, but lose the cubicles and you'll also lose many of the unnecessary meetings. It's a two-fer. Or so we've found with lean office efforts.

No walls, no need to walk around them. Just stand still and observe...

Meikah Delid said...

You hit it right there, Mike. In most cases, there's more value in managing right where you're people are, and not distant as in cooped in one's airconditioned office. So much the better if Management stands still, observe, listen, heed, and take action.

Craig said...

Thanks for the good advice. Once I knock down my cube I've only got 100k to go in our company to open the workplace up :-P

The interesting thing is that most of my colleagues are located in various locations throughout the world. Some are in the US, some in Europe, some in Asia, and even some in the Middle East. It creates a very interesting dynamic for sharing ideas and reducing meetings. I'd love to hear some ideas on how global teams can become more productive.

Anonymous said...

heh. My supervisor, when he first came here, would "MBWA" right at 9AM every day. It quickly became apparent that he was just counting noses to makes sure we were all at our desks on time - if one of us was away from our desks at the lab or in the break room he'd rush around looking for them until he found them, then go right back to the next desk on his route.

Eventually he either got tired of this or found out we were on to him because he abruptly stopped doing it one day and hardly ever emerges from his office anymore.