Think Lean: Do you look, see and observe?

October 14, 2009   by Richard Kunst

Let’s face it, business has changed. The current economic situation has forced leaders to do more with less and really focus on the “game.” But have you taken the time to observe and recognize if you are truly optimizing time and your talented management team?

One of my favourite tasks when working with a company is joining team members on a stroll through the value stream doing what I call a “waste walk.” For just a few moments we extract folks from the game to observe. Sometimes the results are depressing to the team, but we always end the walk rich with opportunities.

Here are some general observations:

People are naturally lazy. This is not necessarily a bad thing; we just need to understand this basic human trait and how to take advantage of it. When performing a function, folks naturally and almost instinctively seek the easiest path. We are innovative in our ability to find short cuts. If they’re effective, how can we leverage the techniques for others to use?

People want to do a good job. As you conduct your walk, look in drawers, cabinets and toolboxes. What do you see? Are their opportunities through improved processes to reduce inventory? I can guarantee that you have a complete hidden stores facility located in personal storage locations. Whether it’s tools or parts, folks will horde whatever it takes to do a good job.

People are social creatures. We like to talk and communicate, but are we communicating the correct things? This brings us to a guiding principal: how are you getting the materials into the hands of your team members without invading their work areas? Every time you invade an employee’s work area you create an interruption. This interruption creates an opportunity for conversation. Studies have shown that every time an employee is distracted it takes about 20 minutes to regain focus. This is a major productivity drag that’s frequently overlooked by the casual observer.

As you enter the process what do you immediately observe? Is process flow evident? Is the status of each operation evident? Are the employees safe, clean, comfortable and well informed? We tend to look at the process within a specific task to insure we attain optimum performance but how often have we looked at the transfer of information, communication and materials? Does this process operate to a specific cadence established within the organization or have we allowed a cadence to be informally adopted within the value stream? Remember, a person sets his/her own pace unless performance targets or Takt time have been established.

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