It’s not a surprise anymore to hear people talking about “going to the Gemba” or “going to see how the work gets done”.
This idea has been promoted by lots of improvements methodologies from Lean to Systems Thinking and as such is reiterated by students of these methods across the world.
But what does still amaze me is how many leaders, managers and change agents don’t actually carry this through. They will utter the words but not take the action. I see examples of this all the time.
Example 1 – The operations manager who manages his operation via the daily and weekly reports and let’s not forget, meetings. Lots of meetings. If you ask them about the work they may point you towards a nicely drawn process map or someone in the department who ‘looks after that’. They do not know how the work really gets done and as such how to go about working on improving overall performance.
Example 2 – The Improvement specialist who maps processes and finds ways to improve them. Often mapping processes on brown paper is the way and this serves a purpose but this rarely demonstrates how the work actually works. Only going to the point of transaction and following examples of customers journeys through can highlight what’s really happening (otherwise we may be only seeing the happy path!)
If this is so obvious then… Why don’t we go see the work in the right way?
I believe this comes down to several reasons (or excuses!):
- I don’t have the time to spend in the work – because I am too busy.
- Process mapping in a room with some SME’s is how some people were trained by experts so why do anything different?
- I already know how the work is done because 10 years ago, I used to do it! There’s nothing new to be learnt there
- I don’t know any different – no one has ever changed my view of how to go about improving our situation.
I think the 1st reason is probably the most common – I’m simply too busy. But can I ask the obvious question – what exactly are you so busy with…?
If I think about Senior Managers that I’ve worked with, there are 2 reasons why they are so busy. Email and Meetings. So are answered (or sending) emails more important than observing the work? Are meetings more important?
What’s the result of attempting change without observing the work first?
The impact of not going about this in the right way can be catastrophic:
- Costs of waste maintained or increased
- Projects failing
- Customers dissatisfied
- Revenues impacted
I urge all the clients I work with to spend time in the work. Leaders and Managers can gain so much knowledge and understanding of the business they are accountable and responsible for simply by opening themselves up to learning in this way.
So, let’s all make an effort to go and better understand how the work gets done in the areas we are involved in and if you need any support in your quest to ‘get knowledge’, then Lean Consulting can help you along the way.