Some time ago I visited this food manufacturing plant for the first time and I was amazed by how good the plant looked. The facility was excellent, the building was almost new, very good machinery and one thing that usually is a problem: a nice layout that follows the process flow making it easy to manage and handle materials. After a few conversations with most of the managers, I realized that none of them had the habit of going daily to the gemba (workplace). This was a surprise for me! If the managers are not going to the gemba, who is taking care of it?
A couple of months later I started to work there and since the beginning, I continue with my routine of visiting the production lines at least twice every day even when “nothing” was going on. The employees looked weird at me, they were not used at all to see a “white hat” when no problems where happening. Some people were upset because they thought I was spying on them. I started to explain to everybody why I visited the workplace every day. I mentioned here and there about Lean Manufacturing, Kaizen and visiting the workplace to see but the more I talked the more funny faces I saw. Funny as in the face of the deer in front of the headlights. I knew that they were thinking that everything was right, the plant was operating with a cost below operating budget; why we want to change what we are doing?
The primary functions of a manager are maintenance and improvement. Maintenance refers to activities directed toward maintaining current technological and operating standards through training and discipline while improvement refers to activities directed towards elevating the current standards.
Take decisions based on data from all kind of reports is just not right. We need to see to know what is really going on before we decide. The first golden rule for management within a Lean Manufacturing environment is that when a problem arises, we need to go to gemba first. Observe the non-conformance situation for a while, the gemba will give you all the answers. The second rule is to check the object of the abnormality, which could be a down machine or rejected parts for example. Kaizen starts when we recognize that we have a problem, see the abnormality and recognize the opportunity for improvement is the first step for continuous improvement. While there, is time to practice the third rule; take temporary countermeasures on the spot. We need to take in mind though, that temporary repairs address only the symptom, not the root cause. Find the root cause is precisely the fourth golden rule. After we identify the root cause is time to solve the problem and create standards that will prevent recurrence.
The manager itself will not solve the problem, people working at the gemba will find the solution but the manager’s task at the gemba is looking over the quality, cost, and delivery. All standards need to be cost-effective and be delivered on time, but the number one priority is always quality.
Follow these rules is not easy at the beginning, it takes time to learn to see. With the huge amount of meetings, visitors and emails that you need to address daily; it is easy to keep yourself at the office and let the supervisors take care of the production floor. I learn the hard way that nobody will see things the way you do, and a life view of an abnormality worth more than a million reports.
Still, I feel aggravated with a couple of my fellow managers, they don’t get it yet. Where they see everything good, I saw opportunities. I knew that we could beat the current cost per case very easily. My continuous improvement gene poke my head almost every day with the opportunities we had in front of us but some of us still don’t see. Change of attitudes takes time, but the people on the floor are getting the idea and each day we are more, the system will coach in or coach out those that still manage the facility without going to the gemba first.