My company is making a management system change to “Value Stream Management”. VSM’s goal is to align all resources including management into a stream of production. It is not a change that will occur over night and will require patience, open communication and an attitude of staying the course with an open mind.
I was sent to a training session on Value Stream Management and one of the opening directions to those who represent leadership positions in the organization struck a chord with me. The term used was called “Gemba”, which is a Japanese term meaning “the real place” or “the place where truth can be found”. The meaning is interchanged with other terms within the lean manufacturing world, as in “go see” as catch phrases. However the direction given was this when explaining the Gemba to us in training: If someone comes up to you with a problem and you are in your office, get up out of your chair and go see the problem.
It struck a chord with me because it is something that I have always naturally done, but also something that has always bothered me when an engineer, supervisor or who I needed to make a decision tried to make a conclusion on what I could tell them in the moment. As a floor worker, I always had a 2-part response when it was an issue that required more than a simple managerial decision. My first thought was that I had no real faith in the decision that someone is going to make without leaving their desk to actually see the problem. The second was I gained a lot more respect for those who wanted to get up and look at the process and what was wrong, to actually see it. They did not act like Arnold or Colin Farrel strapped down in a chair for either rendition of “Total Recall“.
Maybe it is because I am a “visual” person, but this is something that I seem to come across naturally. I get up out of my chair and leave my desk most times to see a problem when I am asked about it. Not only do I believe that it gives me a better opportunity to diagnose the issues and corrections, but I believe it also communicates to the person that they and their issue are important enough to lift my butt out of a chair to help. From the manufacturing perspective, this goes a long way into building trust in those they need to go to for support. As an inspector, I always knew which engineer would come down to assess and which one would not when I had to take something to them. I don’t think it is an anomaly that the ones that actively “go see” are the ones that generally end up in leadership positions at my company.
My mind was reaching outside of the workplace while writing this piece. My thoughts moved to issues at home. I believe I am good at “going to the Gemba” at home when it comes to physical problems. (For example house repair, take out the dog etc.). However, I find myself thinking I have great amounts of room to improve in the emotional or non-physical part. When my wife starts talking to me about something I know she finds important, do I always look away from the TV, PC, book, Game or whatever other thing that I may be involved with to “go see” mentally what my wife needs? I know my wife equates eye contact with “being at the place of truth” in what she is saying. Do I do that for her? Do I do that for others?
How do others ensure they “go to the Gemba” at work and in the interactions of daily family life?