William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) was an American statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. He is perhaps best known for...
You’ve seen street artists draw caricatures. They exaggerate someone’s characteristics for humorous effect. The characteristic is true, but the exaggeration creates a false impression, or at least a distorted perception. In this environment, this is a harmless exercise.
During the golden age of sport, the best athletes were larger than life heroes and supporting cast were thought of as dedicated defenders of the community’s interest. Sports writers and radio broadcasters, through word or image, created a caricature of reality. They might build the person up or tear them down. They could convince you someone acted saintly or with great evil in their heart.
Back at work
Now apply this concept to the work place. You assemble your team in the conference room to understand why the organization failed to meet last month’s performance metrics. You’re interested in each of their opinions, hoping to develop a better understanding of the constraints interfering with performance. You pay each of these people to be subject matter experts:
- Production, responsible for operating equipment
- Maintenance, responsible for fixing equipment
- Quality, responsible for monitoring product quality
- Engineering, responsible for designing processes and equipment
- Management, responsible for coordinating all activity
The conversation starts slow, but soon the dominate players take over. Well intentioned, they begin ‘drawing’ a picture of the facts they find most compelling. After all, they want to influence a decision be taken to remedy the problem as they see it. What is the predictable outcome?
Is evidence trustworthy?
Let’s take a closer look at the photo above. I used the photo to demonstrate the artist’s exaggeration, but the photo isn’t the perfect record of truth either. Could an observer conclude that Bonds swings the bat one handed? A bit of a stretch, but you could have a very healthy (and uninformed) discussion about where in the hitting stroke his hand comes off the bat. A critical fact if you’re a member of a baseball coaching staff debating the best hitting technique.
Photos can distort perception. Video can distort perception. So can production reports, pareto charts, employee or company rankings and all of the other tools used to summarize performance.
Gemba – Go and See.
Gemba, A Japanese word, pronounced gem-baah, and sometimes spelled genba. It’s translated several ways: the real place, where the action is, where value creating work actually occurs.
Get the team out of the conference room. Go to where the value creating work really occurs. Now ask Production to show the constraints on performance. Ask Maintenance to point to repairs and adjustments. Ask Engineering to demonstrate how specific equipment should operate. The key is to be inquisitive.
Now you have a better understanding of the problem and potential solutions. As solutions evolve from ideas to concrete plans, revisit gemba to confirm assumptions, test beliefs, envision the future state, and measure impact.
The following tools should always include gemba visit:
- Problem solving
- Value Stream Map
- Ishikawa’s fishbone diagram
- Formability Analysis
- Risk analysis or FMEA
Principle 9 of the Toyota Production System: Genchi Gembutsu - Go and See for Yourself to Thoroughly Understand the Situation. -From: The Toyota Way, Liker, 2004, McGraw Hill.