Monday, January 23, 2006

Spend More Time at Gemba

When I was visiting a customer site recently, a passing comment by my customer hit a nerve. He told me that this was the first time anyone from my company spent more that one or two hours at his distribution center. My visit (my first to this customer) was for two straight days trying the learn all I could on how our products were received and the quality level of our products. In addition, I listened to everything my customer had to say about our products and service to improve.

His comment hit a nerve in that we sometimes take our customers for granted and sometimes not take the time to "see" the issues from our customer point of view. It also got me thinking about "Going to Gemba" principle of lean manufacturing.

I bet that all the previous visitors thought just a quick visit to see "how things were going" was enough time to spend at gemba. So how much time should one spend at gemba? Is one or two hours enough?

According to the stories I was told about gemba training, Taiichi Ohno was famous for taking engineers or supervisors to the plant floor and making them stand in a circle on the floor to observe the process. After a while (usually several hours), Taiichi Ohno would ask them questions about the process. If the answers proved unsatisfactory, it was back to the circle. Sometimes this observation period would last a full 8 hours shift.

The point is to stay at gemba until you understand the process clearly or gain awareness. In my case, two days were enough time to understand my customers process. It will take more time in gemba to truly gain awareness.

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