Regularly Spend Time on the Shop Floor (Gemba walk) & increase Profit

Green Dot

This is not just going for a walk (Gemba or Gemba walk) and a chat “once in a blue moon.” Value is created on the factory floor, and therefore manufacturing leaders (and leaders in any industry) need to spend time regularly with their front-line employees.

This means taking time to observe the process and providing constructive feedback on what you observe. Write your observations in a notebook.

Follow a regular route around your factory by doing a Gemba walk. The aim is not to ambush your teams or to catch them at idle moments, but rather to show them you are interested and engaged in what they are doing.

When I worked as the plant manager in a plastics molding plant, I had a checklist of things in my notebook that I would aim to observe every day. The kinds of questions I wanted to find the answers to during my Gemba walk are  to include

Gemba walk

  • What problems did the production teams have, and were their leaders supporting them to resolve those problems?
  • What was in the waste bin? Were we throwing out a good product? What kinds of defects were prevalent?
  • Was the manning level correct, and were the team members following standard work?
  • What was the quality of finished goods?
  • Were production machines running according to predetermined cycles?
  • Was automated inspection equipment switched on and working correctly?
  • What was occupying the time of team leaders and managers?

I am sure that you will find a lot of other things to add to your checklist that is relevant to your factory. Do not aim to check on everything, and do not try to check every item on your list every day.

You should also review your checklist and add new items as problems arise and remove them when you consistently find that performance is good. This shows that you are actually engaged in the process, rather than just being bureaucratic.

These kinds of questions and observations will demonstrate your involvement and will let the team know current priorities.

Armed with your observations, you can engage in discussion with shopfloor leaders. These must be focused on asking why things are not as they should be or, equally, asking why things are going so well.

Avoid accusations or judgments. For example, if you march up to a supervisor and say, for example, “The amount of waste in the bin is unacceptable! Who made all this rubbish?”, you will get a defensive response and are also likely to get a lot of finger-pointing and few answers.

Instead, if you open the conversation with “I notice there are a lot of these moldings in the bin. Are you having problems with that part?”, then you open up a problem-solving discussion.

You always need to ask “Why?” to help your team members explain the root causes of the problem, avoiding any compulsion you might have to tell employees the solution. You also need to ask about the good performance and how employees achieved it. For example, “I notice that we haven’t made any defects so far this shift. How have we achieved this?”

This gives the team leader a chance to tell his success story and helps you learn about him and about your process. It will have far more impact than simply saying “Well done.”

Beyond your checklist, you need to keep your eyes open as you walk around. The purpose of visual controls and visual management is to visualize the status of production and highlight any abnormalities. However, this is only effective if leaders notice those abnormalities.

For example, if you walk past and ignore an overflowing first-in-first-out (FIFO) lane, equipment not in the correct location, a large stock of defective products, or empty Kanban locations, then you are sending a message to your employees that these issues are not important.

People will respond to what you see as important. By ignoring nonstandard work or procedures (passive acceptance), you will fatally undermine your production system. You set the example.

As you will have determined by now, a proper visit to the shop floor takes time. It is not just a 5-minute walk-through on the way to the next meeting. The value we create for customers is created in our factories.

Therefore, an hour per day observing how that value is being created and providing feedback to the employees creating it would seem like a good investment of a manufacturing manager’s time.

Comment me below your opinion.

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