Sunday, December 04, 2005

Principle of Lean Genchi Genbutsu Can Go Beyond your Plant Walls

A key principle of lean manufacturing is genchi genbutsu which means to go and see at the actual place. Only by going to the actual place or source can we begin to understand the real facts of any situation. With this clear understanding, real improvement can be implemented.

Sometimes, the actual place is not within the four corners of your plant and you must look beyond your plant walls. I am talking about going to your supplier's location or even going to your supplier's supplier location.

This goes hand in hand with another key principle of lean which is to extend help to your partners and suppliers to improve. This extension of your continuous improvement efforts beyond your plant walls to your supplier helps everybody get better.

We applied both of these principles last week when faced with a quality issue from one of our suppliers. Instead of sending a typically SCAR (Supplier Corrective Action Request) for our supplier to respond with their fix or calling them to the carpet and pounding on them to get it right or else, we decided to extend our helping hand. There were no threats or heavy handed tactics that are common in American business today in our supplier relationships especially when problems hit the fan. Just a road trip to genchi genbutsu.

Most suppliers are apprehensive about a visit under these circumstances because of a basic lack of trust. How can you blame them? They expect the customer to jump all over them and in some case it is not without cause. But does this help solve the problem or follow the Toyota Way?

In our quest to solve the problem, we included visits to both our suppliers site and our supplier's supplier site to drill down to the root cause. With all parties working as one cooperative group, we were able to isolate the potential root cause and set up verification process plans to confirm the cause. In addition, quality procedures were strengthened to improve corrective and preventive actions. This including sharing our best practices, forms and procedures with our suppliers.

It was amazing to see the results. Next time you have a supplier problem, try the genchi genbutsu approach beyond your plant walls. Build trust and extend your helping hand.

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