I was watching a Ted Talk video with chef José Andrés where he described how a team of chefs fed Puerto Rico after hurricane María. I admire him for his work in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, but now after his work in Puerto Rico with the World Central Kitchen I am thankful and consider him a hero. The entire talk is fascinating but there are parts that resonate in me for the simplicity on which he and his support team did problem solving and continuous improvement in a crisis and beat the huge federal structure on bringing food for the people in need.
Some of his words remind me things that we do while practicing continuous improvement: “Let’s not plan, let’s not meet, let’s start cooking.” and “All of a sudden, big problems become very simple, low-hanging fruit solutions, only by doing, not planning and meeting in a very big building”.
One common situation for managers is to take decisions, is what we do every day. Some managers still take decisions based on month end reports discussion during a staff meeting. Those reports are like a post-mortem analysis, they only say what happened on the past. Any action taken may or may not work to change the subject targeted on those reports.
The best way to know a situation first hand is going to where the action is, lean practitioners call that place gemba. Gemba is whenever the process we want to improve happens, the production floor, office, laboratory, any place where we need to practice continuous improvement.
I am very visual, for me the best way to understand something is by taking a look at it. I use charts and other visual methods to communicate status but when I am facing a problem, the only way for me is to go where the problem is and observe. For me going to the gemba and see what is happening is a natural thing. Even if does not feel that natural for you, it is possible to do it and it works on every environment.
What José Andrés did in Puerto Rico was just that, he went to the gemba observed the situation and took decisions on the spot. Their ideas execution was also a check for their effectiveness and the trigger for changes to adapt to the changing situation or priorities. That is how we practice continuous improvement at its best!