Power of observation: Step back, let it happen

By Richard Kunst   

Industry Operations Production Manufacturing Lean manufacturing observing training

Acting as an observer rebalances processes.

Training on a CNC machine. PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK

Living with COVID-19 has meant traditional processes constantly being modified, then adjusted. In some cases these changes are wonderful new and enduring experiences, which brings us to the 30-inch view and the power of observation. Thirty inches is the average length of a person’s arm. Naturally you’ll focus on what your hands touch and manipulate.

If your team experiences a bottleneck, of course you jump in to provide an additional set of hands to help maintain flow. But it’s more effective to step back, observe and rebalance resources.

Here’s a lesson from a boss years ago: “Learn to sit on your hands. You know what needs to be done and you can do it faster than the technician but if you slow down, instruct, educate and coach, the technician will understand and most likely never call you again when faced with the same problem.”

Don’t teach by doing. By doing, the desired result will come much faster, but you have failed as a leader by not using the opportunity as a learning moment. Being an observer allows you to see the bigger picture instead of just focusing on that 30-inch view. Here’s an example. Team leads on a very long packaging line helped people in the final pack zone while others at the start of line were standing around.


An observer that understands the process would have seen it was much easier to rebalance resources.

Emerging benefits

As we live with the potential effects of COVID-19 and organizations of all kinds are reacting with methods to support physical distancing, some great benefits are emerging. Here’s an example from a grocery store.

No more jockeying for the shortest or fastest line at a cashier. Cashing out has switched from batching to sequencing by an observer who directs customers to the next available cashier. This improves throughput but also accomplishes two tasks: it adds capacity by calling for more cashiers or redeploying excess cashiers when there are no customers.

Many organizations are complaining about the detrimental impact COVID-19 has on their businesses and indeed many are suffering. But others have figured out how to create a better and more personal experience with no negative impact on sales. If you view the role of observers as adding value, think of its as a great tool for building your brand while improving relationships.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp.Visit E-mail

This feature originally appeared in the October 2020 print issue of PLANT Magazine.


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories